Cognitive defusion is a term used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to describe the process of putting some distance between negative thoughts and our reactions to them.
One cognitive defusion technique frequently used in ACT helps people to loosen the association between words and their literal meaning.
Take, for example, the word “cake.” It’s likely to conjure up images in your mind of spongy layers interspersed with sweet frosting. This process happens so automatically that we rarely stop to consider that it is only in our minds that the word “cake” is associated with sponginess, sweetness, and layers of frosting.
But notice what happens if you repeat the word “cake” over and over again out loud. Try it for 30 seconds as an experiment and repeat “cake” as fast as you can.
Saying “cake” aloud over and over again is likely to change your relationship with cake in important ways, at least momentarily. You may notice that when strung together repeatedly really fast, it sounds a bit like gargling mouthwash or the word “kayak.” And all of the usual associations with the word “cake” (e.g., roundness, sweetness, sponginess) are likely to seem less fused together.
Similar principles have been used to help people get some distance from negative thoughts they have about themselves.
If you’d like to try this technique for yourself, complete the exercise below and learn to change the way you see yourself.
Masuda, A., Hayes, S. C., Sackett, C. F., & Twohig, M. P. (2004). Cognitive defusion and self-relevant negative thoughts: Examining the impact of a ninety year old technique. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42, 477-485.