Defusion. How To Deal With Difficult Thoughts.

ACT defusion from thoughts

Ever got stuck in thoughts?  Had a thought going round and round in your head that’s driven you bonkers?

Humans are a rare animal indeed.  We have language.  Language is an amazing tool and has allowed us to dominate the planet.

The downside of language though is that we get stuck in it sometimes, a bit like a fisherman getting tangled in his own net.

The downside of thoughts

It’s pretty easy for us humans to get fixated on a thought about ourselves or someone else, project ourselves into the future or ruminate on the past.

All of those private mental experiences take you away from the only thing you have. Now.

Whilst you are working out whether you should have said that thing to the boss or what she might be thinking about you, or you’re giving yourself a kicking for being stupid, or lazy, or incompetent, now is slipping away and you’re missing it.


In ACT we call this fusion with thoughts.  It’s as if you and your thoughts become one.

Imagine putting a pair of blue sunglasses on.  Everything you look at will be blue.  It’s the same with thoughts.

If you have the thought “I’m worthless” then you will see the world like that.  You will notice everything that seems to confirm you are worthless.

You are not your thoughts

Notice how the checkout assistant didn’t say hello?  maybe that’s because “you’re worthless”.  And your so called friend was supposed to text wasn’t she?  She didn’t because she thinks “you’re worthless”.

I’m sure you get my drift with this.

No arguments

Do you have a friend or work colleague who is always right about everything even when they’re not?  No matter what you say they will be the authority on it and swear black was white if it means winning a debate?

Our minds are like that.

You’ve probably worked out that the best way of dealing with that colleague is to humour him, nod politely, back away and “anything you say” as you gracefully make for the door.

Your mind is not your friend

It’s the same with our minds.  Working out whether something your brain is telling you is true or not is just jumping right back into that net.

Another way of dealing with the thought is to work out whether it’s useful to you or not.  If it is (like the thought, “she loves me soooooo much!”) then by all means get stuck in there and fuse with it.

If it’s not then it’s time to defuse.


Defusion is the art of looking at the thought rather than from the thought.

You can do this in a number of ways.


You can use language to separate yourself from the thought. Here’s an example of how to do this in a stepped approach.

The thought you are defusing from is “I am worthless”.

Add more words: “I’m telling myself I am worthless”. – 1 step away.

And again: “I notice I am telling myself I am worthless” – 2 steps away.

and again: “I notice I am telling myself that I am worthless, thanks for that brain”. – 3 steps away.

You have now created a bit of wiggle room to attach to one of your values and do something that will take you in that direction.


Sing the thought.  Try to “Happy birthday”.  Mix it up and do it Vic Reeves club style.  How about singing it like it was part of a musical?

The point is to loosen the grip of this thought on you.  It’s pretty hard to take it seriously when you are pretending the thought is one of the tracks of the Frozen movie.

Stupid voices

Say the thought in a stupid voice.  Try Donald Duck or Homer Simpson.  Try not to giggle as a result!

Go to Talking Tom’s website and download the Talking Tom app.  Now speak the thought to Tom.  He will repeat it back in his squeaky voice.  Diffusion guaranteed!

Create distance, do what matters

The point of all of these techniques is to create a bit of space between you and your thoughts.  This will give you a chance to connect with what’s important and do something that will take you in that direction.

Rather than looking through the blue glasses you are now looking at them with curiosity.


Like anything in life you are going to have to practice this.  You may do it a few times and have limited success.  Notice the thought “this is not going to work for me” your brain sends you and defuse from that too.  Thanks for that one brain!

As you get better and better at defusion you will notice that it becomes easier to separate from your thoughts and get on with the things that really matter to you.

Counselling in Cheadle

If you want to come and hear all of this from the horses mouth then why not book a therapy session and learn to defuse with me?

If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, stress or have an addiction then defusion is a great tool in your armoury to move your life to a better place.

I offer therapy and counselling in Wilmslow and teach people this stuff every day.  Believe me it makes a huge difference to people’s lives, why not yours?

Read The Book

Get Out Of Your Mind And Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy* is a great book to read if you want to learn about ACT.  The book is written by Steve Hayes, the originator of ACT.  It will talk you through the theory in more depth and give you more strategies to defuse from thoughts.

*affiliate link

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  1. David on March 4, 2021 at 8:43 am

    Nice explanation and examples Ian,

    • Ian Tomlinson on March 4, 2021 at 9:59 am

      Hi David
      Thanks for your comment, really pleased the defusion in ACT post was useful

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