*PSA: Our thoughts are not facts!*
The truth is that thoughts are just thoughts. They are sensations of the brain that come and go. This statement is not meant to minimize the emotional impact that thoughts can have or to negate the factual information often associated with thoughts. These are both valid. The point is that thoughts are no more powerful than we will allow them to become. We are the ones who give them meaning.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) encourages people to “defuse” themselves from maladaptive patterns of thinking through a process called cognitive defusion. The goal of cognitive defusion is to help us change our relationship to our thoughts rather than changing the thoughts themselves. The idea is that we all have a tendency to over-identify with our thoughts, amplifying them in our minds to become “the truth.” When we become so attached (fused) to thoughts in this way, it is easy to see how they can feel so compelling, but our thoughts do not dictate behavior. Just because you have a thought does not necessarily mean an action must be taken. Cognitive defusion involves creating space between ourselves and our thoughts so that we may evaluate if they correspond to reality. When we look AT thoughts rather than FROM thoughts, we have room to mindfully consider other sources of information (feelings, direct observations, physical sensations, etc.) before taking action. Cognitive defusion techniques enable us the ability to act flexibly and in accordance with our values.
To understand how cognitive defusion works, put your hands palms-up in your lap. Your hands represent your thoughts. Bring your hands up to your face to where they are almost touching your face and covering your eyes. Notice how hard it is to see much other than your hands. Very little information can get in through the gaps of your fingers. Imagine what it would be like to go about your day like this. How difficult it would be to navigate. Now, create some space between your face and your hands by returning them to your lap. You’ve widened your view. You can still see your hands, and now you can also see everything else in the environment too. Consider how much easier it would be to act effectively in this posture. This is defusion. We are pulling away from our thoughts just enough to see the bigger picture more clearly.
So, how attached are you to your thoughts? How much power are you giving your mind?
-Christine Warren, Psy.D.