Fusion vs. Defusion
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), cognitive fusion represents our tendency to get attached to thinking patterns to the point where we cannot separate ourselves from our thoughts. Simply said, cognitive fusion means that you believe what your mind tells you and let this belief completely dominate your behavior.
When you become fused to thought patterns, you identify yourself with your thoughts, so they can cause a lot of distress and seriously damage your health. According to ACT, when you get intertwined with your thoughts and beliefs, you lose the focus to present moment and direct experience.
The goal of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is to help a client find a way to use their suffering caused by cognitive fusion to grow and develop personally. Therefore, ACT emphasizes defusion and uses mindfulness as the best tool to bring the focus from the world of language back to the world of direct experience.
How to Identify Cognitive Fusion?
Fusion develops through six cognitive areas: rules, reasons, judgments, past, future, and self.
Rules-fused thinking is comprised of “if…than”, ”must” and “should” language. It consists of stories you have told yourself about how you are supposed to think, feel, or behave. For example, you might think, “If people don’t accept me, then I will never be happy. They must accept me and love me.” Fusion with rules in thinking leads to rigidity in thinking and behavior.
Fusion with reasons consists of explanations you give to yourself and others about why you can’t change. For example, you might think, ”I can’t do this because I’m not smart enough” or “I am so unlucky, good things never happen to me” Sticking to reasons hinders positive changes in your life, and prevents you from developing.
We constantly make judgments that affect our thinking, emotions, and behavior in many ways. We tend to be judgmental about people, events, behaviors, and ourselves. Fusion with judgments can cause you trouble whether your evaluations are positive or negative. For example, you might think that other people are mean and unfriendly and act accordingly to your judgment-fused beliefs.
Fusion with the past means staying stuck in the past and being unable to focus on the present moment. Whether it is fusion with negative memories or reliving the good old days that will never return, past-governed thinking detaches you from the present moment and things that are really important to you.
Similarly, fusion with the future prevents you from living in the present moment and being grateful for what you currently have. Fusion with future may include worrying over what might happen and as such can trigger anxiety.
Self-governed thinking involves ideas about what kind of person you are. We all have thoughts about who we are and what we stand for. However, fusion with the idea of yourself can lead to inflexibility in thinking and behavior and hold you back from the possibilities of who you can be.
Cognitive defusion is a process of learning that your thoughts are just thoughts. This enables you to separate yourself from your thoughts and beliefs.
Diffusion involves using mindfulness to consciously observe your internal processes without allowing them to control your emotions and behavior. After you identify your thoughts and notice yourself getting immersed in them, it is crucial to recognize that this is happening. Then you mindfully accept your thoughts without self-judgment and let them go.