Fusion vs. Defusion

“Doubt is not a pleasant state of mind, but certainty is absurd.” – Voltaire

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) contends that there are opportunities for purpose and meaning even in the midst of intense pain or suffering.  The goal of ACT is not to merely eliminate suffering, but to find a way to use one’s pain and suffering to grow and find meaning.

When we are in a state of cognitive fusion, we are stuck to our thoughts.  It is almost as if we cannot separate ourselves from our thoughts.  We are often so stuck to our thoughts that we cannot even see it.  In a state of cognitive fusion, thinking completely dominates our behavior.  We think or believe that something is true and we act as if it is true.

When we are stuck to our thoughts, attitudes, or beliefs, we lose touch with what ACT terms “the world of direct experience.”  Instead, we are lost in the world of language, so lost in the thoughts and images running through our minds that we forget to bring our focus back to the presently unfolding moment of the world of direct experience.  ACT suggests that mindfulness acts as a “direct transport” from the world of language back to the world of direct experience.

Defusion involves “learning to step back and separate or detach from our thoughts, images, and memories” (Harris, 2009, p. 178).  When choose to consciously disentangle ourselves from the grip of our internal cognitive drama, we are practicing mindfulness.  When we are defused from our cognitive processes, we begin to see them for what they are: words or pictures.  In this state of defusion, we allow ourselves to mindfully observe our internal processes without relinquishing control to them.  We notice them, choose not to pass judgment on them, accept them, and let them go.

How do you notice your feelings and subjective state of well-being change when you are in a state of fusion versus a state of defusion?  Which way of being feels more beneficial to you?  The next time that you notice yourself getting “wrapped up” or “swept away” by your internal drama of thoughts, images, and feelings, recognize that this is happening.  Simply try noticing what is going on for you in the moment.  How does it feel to observe yourself in this way?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Featured image: 30 days of gratitude – Day 26 by aussiegall / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

What's On Your Mind?