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ACT: Defusion

ACT: Defusion

Last Updated on September 27, 2023 by admin

Through the lens of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), the overarching problem isn’t with the painful thoughts and emotions that may occur in ourselves – we actually look at these thoughts with openness and curiosity! The main problem is when a person becomes so hooked to those feelings that they begin to control and limit the way a person behaves. In other words, the struggle that happens to a person when their thoughts begin to dominate not only their actions, but their attention as well, is what ACT therapists would consider to be the focus of concern.

To address this, ACT therapists like to employ a tactic called defusion. While it may sound highly technical and not very user-friendly to those without a therapeutic background, it’s actually quite simple. All it means is responding to your thoughts and emotions in such a way that leaves them unable to move you. Of course, we humans can’t help but be influenced by what goes on in our heads but defusion means being able to respond to – but not become dominated by them.

We do this through aiming to see our thoughts for what they are in their most raw state. If you really think about it, thoughts and cognitions are nothing more than our brains constructing words and images, and if we’re able to remove the grip that they have on us, they’ll have much less of a bearing on our lives.

It involves moving out of the zone of trying to fight or avoid our thoughts and instead, looking at them with curiosity and genuinely wondering; is this helpful? If so, we can comfortably let our thoughts guide us, but if not, we let them be. We don’t spend energy on trying to wrestle with and eventually beat our thoughts, but instead we leave them as they are, but with enough flexibility that they don’t creep into our outward behaviour and actions.

The goal is not to get rid of unwanted or painful thoughts, but to untangle ourselves from them so that we have the mental and emotional energy to mindfully live in the present moment and live out the values that matter to us. We disconnect ourselves from such painful thoughts and in doing so, we begin to believe them less and less, making their grip on us looser and looser as time goes on.

While there are many, many techniques that therapists like to use in the process of defusion, all of them include the three N’s, which can easily be practiced at home.


When we notice that we may be feeling some painful or negative emotions, it immediately brings us back to center and allows us to control our thoughts, rather than letting our thoughts control us. Naturally, the next step is to name what we’re feeling. Are we feeling sad? Angry? Excited? Once we’re able to identify how we’re feeling, we take some power back from it, and we’re better able to move into the next step, neutralizing our cognition. In order to do so, we look at our thoughts through the lens of wondering how helpful and productive they are. We take them out of the emotionally ridden context that they tend to appear to us in, and instead we focus on how they are impacting us and our behaviour. If it’s helpful, great! Let’s run with that. If they’re damaging, we focus on how we respond to it in a way that will be beneficial for us.

Foundational to defusion is the understanding that our minds are not irrational or somehow wrong, they’re essentially trying to protect us. With that knowledge, we take some of the power away from our minds, and we’re more able to behave according to how we want to be, rather than what our brains are telling us to be.


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