Defusion & Acceptance Commitment Therapy

Defusion – The separation of an emotion-provoking stimulus from the unwanted emotional response as part of a therapeutic process, in the same way as when a bomb is “defused”.

In his book, ‘The Happiness Trap’, Dr. Russ Harris introduces a technique called defusion. This is a mindfulness based technique that has you observing the thoughts in your mind. Every time you find yourself getting caught up in a thought or an idea in your mind, you simply say to yourself, “I am having the thought ….”.

For example, you have a particular stressor in your life, and as a result the mind keeps coming up with negative thoughts and stories that lead to negative emotions and feelings. I am scared about money, or my illness, or my family member, or my job – all of these stressors create negative thoughts and stories in the mind.

Pick out a particular negative thought or story that continuously plays in your mind. “I am too fat”, “I am too lazy”, “I am not smart enough”, “I am not good enough”, “I cant do this, or that”. Whatever it is, pick it out and each time you catch yourself thinking this, say, “I am having the thought that I am…”.

When I first learned this technique, I didn’t pay too much attention to the name. But, now with more understanding, I have decided to find out more. I have discovered something from reading the definition – “The separation of an emotion provoking stimulus”.

That word ‘separation’ explained so much of this for me.

In spirituality, there is a journey of one realising their true selves, outside from the egoic mind. We become so completely identified with the mind that we easily lose touch with true reality and our true selves. We get so wrapped up in all of the day to day stories of our mind, but the mind is just full of illusionary ideas about what we think reality is.

This tight identification with the mind becomes a big problem, and that is because it is not 100% truth. Its full of our own perceptions, dogmas, belief systems and judgement and it creates this sense of self; a self that can be harmed and judged.

These thoughts and stories in our minds have no real basis in life – They are just a constant stream of ideas running through the mind, most of them are negative because the mind isn’t designed to be happy. Biologically, we are built to survive and this comes with a lot of fear and anxiety. There are many problems in the world, and we are wired to survive these problems.

But the more we identify with this, the more we suffer it. This technique of defusion is what aids the separation process. A mindfulness based technique now used in ACT – Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, many practicing psychologists are now implementing this in their tool kits.

Separation from the mind, this is something that this technique of defusion achieves. Instead of becoming identified with a negative thought, you pick it out, say, “I am having the thought…”, and you have defused it.

The more you apply the technique, the less identified you become with these thoughts in the mind and the more you can experience them for what they really are, which is just a thought that most likely has no basis in reality.