The concept of cognitive defusion comes from the origins of the classical cognitive theories , where the emphasis of the therapeutic process was only on the mental processes of the subject, removing other aspects, such as innate responses to certain stimuli.

This is a technique used with the intention of modifying a patient’s negative thoughts, but not by replacing them with more adaptive ones.

In this article we will review what this technique consists of, as well as some practical exercises from their theories.

What is sought in cognitive defusion?

By means of cognitive defusion, the subject is attempted to begin to see his thoughts as what they really are, thoughts, and not as irrefutable facts of reality. In this way the negative and intrusive thoughts that the individual may be presenting would tend to lose their specific weight in terms of the discomfort they generate.

According to this idea, it is not necessary for the person to change his thought, what is really decisive for him to stop suffering from it, is that he understands that the fact of thinking in a certain way does not significantly influence his reality, as long as it does not lead that thought to action.

Unlike cognitive-behavioral techniques, which focus on the individual’s replacement of negative thoughts by more adaptive ones through the process of majeutics, cognitive defusion techniques are designed to maintain the same thoughts in the subject. During this process the person should come to see his unwanted thoughts as unimportant in his life.

How is the merger with negative thoughts?

Having made it clear that the process of cognitive defusion attempts to make the subject let go of the weight generated by the negative thoughts he or she presents, it is important to know how the fusion between the subject and the unwanted thought originates.

Theoretically, this kind of thinking comes from unconscious aspects, fed by the person’s education . That is, if someone has been educated in a certain way, it is normal that during that process he has been told what is correct and what is not.

Then, when the person is fully aware that there is good and bad, right and wrong, thoughts of opposition to the norm begin to operate in his mind.

This phenomenon is completely natural to all of us, it will only be a problem when these thoughts represent limitations for the person in significant areas of his life. Thus, the methods of cognitive diffusion seek to make the person understand the naturalness of his thoughts .

Cognitive defusion techniques

Let’s now look at some tools that may be useful in applying this theory.

1. To state our thoughts

When we are having an intrusive thought that disturbs us, we proceed to place a statement in the following way; we place the thought at the end of the following phrase “I am not” or “I am”, all depending on what the thought is.

For example, if we are thinking about hurting an animal or a person, we should simply accommodate that thought as “I am not an aggressive person, and I don’t have to hurt anyone.

2. The loss of meaning

This technique consists of continuously repeating a word or phrase that comes to mind when we are having negative thoughts, in such a way that after a while of repetition the word that is being said loses its meaning .
Then we must do the same with the thought that bothers us, until we remove the meaning, and in such a way that it is no longer a thought that we are trying to escape from, but we will be able to face it by repeating it constantly.

These exercises are very useful to get our reality away from those intrusive thoughts that can become really annoying, and if we make a habit of them it is very likely that with the passage of time the annoying thoughts will disappear.

Bibliographic references:

  • Baker, D. B. (2011). The Oxford Handbook of the History of Psychology: Global Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Jarzombek, M. (2000). The Psychologizing of Modernity Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.