What is Cognitive Defusion?

“To let go is to release the images and emotions, the grudges and fears, the clingings and disappointments of the past that bind our spirit.” ~ Jack Kornfield


What is Cognitive Defusion?

Cognitive fusion means getting caught up in thinking and allowing them to dominate our behaviour, whereas cognitive defusion allows us to directly experience the word. In the book, The Confidence Gap, Dr Harris says that cognitive –

“defusion is the ability to seperate from your thoughts and to let them come and go, instead of getting caught up in them, or allowing them to dictate what you do. Defusion provides a powerful way to deal effectively with painful, unhelpful or self-defeating thoughts and beliefs.” (p.178). 

In ACT Made Simple, Dr Harris expands on cognitive defusion, saying –

“In a state of defusion you recognise that a thought- 

  • may or may not be true;
  • is definitely not a command you have to obey or a rule you have to follow;
  • is definitely not a threat to you;
  • is not something happening in the physical world – it is merely words and pictures inside your head;
  • may or may not be important – you have a choice as to how much attention you pay to it;
  • can be allowed to come and go of its own accord without any need for you to hold on to it or push it away.” (p.532). 


What is the Difference Between Cognitive Fusion and Cognitive Defusion?

There are a number of key differences between cognitive fusion and cognitive defusion. Some of the difference include –

  • cognitive fusion is the world of language (i.e. in our minds) and cognitive defusion is the world of direct experience;
  • cognitive defusion is looking at thoughts rather than from thoughts (i.e. cognitive fusion);
  • cognitive defusion is noticing thoughts rather than being caught up in thoughts (i.e. cognitive fusion); and
  • cognitive defusion is letting thoughts come and go rather than holding on to them (i.e. cognitive fusion).


Common Misperceptions on Cognitive Defusion –

There are a number of common misperceptions about cognitive defusion. Subseqeuntly you might like to remember these key points in ACT Made Simple. Harris says –

  • the purpose of cognitive defusion “…to engage fully in our experiences and facilitate effective action” (p.517);
  • “we are not trying to eliminate or reduce the symptoms. We’re trying to fundamentally transform our relationship with painful thoughts and feelings so we no longer perceive them as ‘symptoms'” (p.517); and 
  • “it is not some clever tool to control feelings: it is a means to become present and take effective action.” (p.517).
  • “defusion is a process, not a technique.” (p,2139)
  • “The aim of defusion is to reduce the influence of unhelpful cognitive processes upon behaviour and to facilitate being psychologically engaged and present in experience. In other words, the aim of defusion is to enable mindful, valued living.” (p.2290).



Over to You…

I hope this post has given you some insight in to what is cognitive defusion? If you have an questions, please write them below, so I can share a response that everyone can see and I will respond asap.



References –

Harris, R. (2009). ACT Made Simple: An Easy-to-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. California, USA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Harris, R. (2011). The Confidence Gap: From Fear to Freedom. Sydney, Australia: Penguin Group

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