How to Defuse from Distressing Thoughts

Clarity’s Favourite Defusion Techniques for Dealing with Difficult Thoughts and Feelings

Do you often get caught up in your own thoughts, worries or memories? Do painful thoughts and feelings create a lot of distress for you? Do self-critical judgements about yourself hold you back from living the life you want?

If so, you are getting fused with your thoughts (like the rest of the human species frequently do).

“I’m getting stuck in my mind!”

Fusion is the process of a thought appearing in your mind and you getting hooked into it, which leads to rumination and overthinking and usually results in feeling pretty horrible.

Here is an example for fusion:

I am meeting a friend, but he is very distracted and does not seem to be in a very happy mood. My mind comes up with the thought ‘He no longer likes me.’ So now I start to think about reasons and look for solutions to a problem my mind has created. “What was it that I said? How did I annoy him? How can I fix it? I am just not a very good friend. No one likes me!” Emotional turmoil starts to unfold …

Does that sound familiar?

We normally deal with unhelpful thoughts by fusing with them, avoiding them, trying to push them away by fighting them, wrestling with them or attempting to control or change them. Have any of them ever worked for you long-term? No? They haven’t for me either. If anything, those strategies have made my emotional distress worse.

So what should I do instead?

The opposite of fusion is defusion. Defusion is about noticing when your mind starts to get hooked into unhelpful thoughts and to create distance between them and us. It is learning to see thoughts as words in our mind and creating a separation between us and our mind. The three processes of defusion are noticing, naming and neutralising.

  1. Notice

In the olden days those who admitted to hearing voices in their head were seen as crazy or insane. Nowadays we are more inclined to admit that we all have at least one other voice in our head and that that is part of being human. Very often that voice – maybe the voice of your inner critic – is not a very kind one and leaves us feeling distressed. To allow us to defuse, we must first become aware of what is happening within us. Noticing means to engage with ourselves in a mindful manner. That involves pausing and checking in with yourself. What are you sensing? How are you feeling? What is your mind doing? To get into the practice of noticing you could stop and take 3 slow, deep breaths every time you go to the bathroom or are stuck in a queue. Start getting to know yourself.

  1. Name

Once you have noticed that something is going on for you, name it. Research shows that labelling calms the brain because finding words for feelings deactivates the part of the brain that initiates a stress response by activating the part that monitors our emotions. So look up the wheel of emotions and start to name your feelings.

  1. Neutralise

Neutralising means putting your thoughts into a new context and recognising them as words and images in your mind. The purpose of defusion is not to get rid of the thoughts, memories or feelings but to create distance between them and you so you can live an active, engaging and meaningful life. Try out the following defusion techniques and see which one works best for you. If any of these make you feel like your problems are trivialised, discounted or mocked, do not use them. Instead look for another one or create your own and keep practicing numerous times a day.

 

Defusion Techniques

Thank Your Mind

When a thought pops up and tries to draw you in, recognise it and thank you mind. ‘Thanks mind for that thought. I know you are trying to protect me.’ Don’t respond with aggression but recognise your brain’s ability to keep you safe with warmth and gratitude.

Voices and Songs

Imagine your thoughts being said with different voices, different tones, different pronunciation, slower and faster … or imagine someone singing your thoughts to you. Notice what happens and how you your relationship to those thoughts can change.

Defusion Karaoke

Read your thoughts like words on a karaoke screen. Imagine a bouncing glitter ball jumping from one word to the other. Go ahead and imagine yourself on stage singing along to it! Does that feel different now?

Name That Story

With recurring themes, give them a name. So if you struggle with jealousy for example, notice when it comes up for you and say to yourself ‘There’s the jealousy story again.’ We do not have to act on our thoughts.

The Stick Figure of Defusion

When horrible thoughts cross your mind, get some paper out and draw a stick figure. Put speech bubbles with your thoughts around it and see if that creates some distance from your feelings. Play around with it or draw a different figure. Recognise the words as words and create a sense of compassion for yourself because very often the words that come up are painful.

 

My Experience with Defusion

When I first started to learn about defusion, I was hugely perplexed. All my life I had been taking my thoughts seriously and all of a sudden I am supposed to learn to ignore them? How am I meant to make decisions? Who is going to guide me? I felt very uneasy but had to admit that believing my thoughts and acting on them had not gotten me much happiness or peace in life.

Remind yourself that focusing on your thoughts is your default setting. It’s ok – we all do it because that’s just how our brains work.

Defusion is your opportunity to learn a new skill. There is nothing to give up, nothing to label as wrong. It’s all about learning a new skill that will help you to look after yourself better. It is an act of kindness and good self-care.

Please get in touch if you want some support with changing your relationship with your thinking.

 

Marlena Tillhon MSc

"I love helping people and I live for deep and meaningful conversations. Being a psychotherapist is my dream job and my greatest passion in life."

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