A core process in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is called defusion. It means separating from our thoughts and letting them come and go instead of getting all wrapped up in them. Through defusion, our thoughts no longer have to control our actions or behaviors. In ACT terms, defusion is the opposite of fusion, which is what we do when we get caught up in our thoughts and let them dominate our lives.
There are various techniques for learning ACT defusion.
Different techniques work for different people, and they are best learned and practiced with your therapist. Here are a few examples to give you an idea of how it works. Remember: The goal is to get separation from your negative thoughts.
1. Identify a negative self-judgment you often apply to yourself, like I’m fat, and really fuse (connect) with the thought. Now, begin to replay it in your head with the phrase, I notice I’m having the thought that I’m fat. Try it with another negative thought about yourself. See if you begin to sense some separation from the thought.
2. OK, let’s say you’re stuck on it—I’m fat—because, you say, it’s true. I’m not really interested in whether it’s true or false, I’m interested in whether the thought is helpful. Does it help you become the person you want to be? Does it encourage action that will help you move forward in a positive way?
3. Imagine you’re clinging to a capsized boat in the middle of the ocean, and you’re holding on tightly to a heavy suitcase. You don’t want to let go because it is full of familiar, precious things, but if you hang onto it you’ll drown. What would you do? Let go of it? Right, and then you’d put your energy into something useful and productive, like swimming toward shore.
4. Try naming the negative thought as if it were a book, like “The Fat Person Story.” Each time this story shows up in your head, say to yourself, “Ahh, there it is again, The Fat Person Story.” See if that helps you identify the thought and separate a bit from it.
5. When you have a negative thought about yourself, try distancing yourself by thinking, “What is my mind telling me right now?” or “That’s an interesting thought.” Remind yourself it’s just a thought. An old, worn thought. A not-useful thought.
Again, there are scores of techniques for learning ACT defusion, and it takes practice. But it is well worth it; we all compare, judge, and have negative thoughts about ourselves—it’s normal—and defusion helps us set those thoughts aside and focus on what’s important.