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Defusion Techniques

Defusion Techniques


Defusion involves distancing, disconnecting or seeing thoughts and feelings for what they are (streams of words, passing sensations), not what they say they are (dangers or facts).

STOP, STEP BACK, OBSERVE (the thoughts and feelings, what's happening to/for the other person).

Notice what's happening - your thoughts, physical sensations, emotions, images, memories. Notice the way you're interpreting what they mean, and how that's affecting you.

Notice the unhelpful thoughts. It can help to say them differently, in a non-threatening way: slowly, in a squeaky or comic voice or write them down.

Identify the emotion you're feeling, and label the unhelpful thoughts

  • an evaluation or judgement
  • a prediction
  • a feeling or sensation
  • a memory
  • an opinion
  • an unhelpful thinking habit: mind-reading (assuming we know what others are thinking), negative filter (only noticing the bad stuff), emotional reasoning (I feel bad so it must be bad), catastrophising (imagining the worst), the internal critic etc. 

Learn more and practice mindfulness so that you can be aware of when you are in the present moment rather than being 'in your head' - perhaps thinking about the past or worrying about the future.

Notice what you don't normally notice - sights, sounds, sensations, thoughts, textures etc.


The Visitor


Use metaphors try to see things differently.   Metaphors can help us understand thoughts in a different way. For example:

Passengers on the Bus
You can be in the driving seat, whilst all passengers (thoughts) are noisily chattering, being critical or shouting out directions. You can allow them to shout, but you can keep your attention focused on the road ahead.

Playground Bully
The playground is fenced in and the children have to learn to live with the bully. This bully uses threats, mocking and abusive words to upset his victims. We can't stop our thoughts, but perhaps we can react to them in a different way, as these victims show us.

Victim 1 - believes the bully (the thoughts), becomes distressed, and reacts automatically. The bully sees this as great entertainment and will carry on targeting this victim. This is how we normally respond to our thoughts.

Victim 2 - challenges the bully, and bully eventually gives up on this victim.

Victim 3 - acknowledges then ignores the bully, changing focus of attention, and the bully soon gives up.

The RiverClick on picture for leaves in stream animation
Items floating down the river - perhaps leaves or bits of mucky debris (thoughts, feelings, images) - instead of struggling to stay afloat, we can stand on the bank watching our thoughts, images and sensations go by.

The Beach Ball
We can try to stop our thoughts, like trying to hold a beach ball under water, but it keeps popping up in front of our face (intrusive distressing thoughts). We can allow the ball (our thoughts) to float around us, not intruding, just letting it be.

Thought Train
Standing on the station platform, sometimes we are advised to stand back as an express train will be passing through at speed.  We hear and feel it approaching, thundering through as it buffets us with a strong blast of wind.   We don’t attempt to jump on the express train and let it take us to destinations we don’t want to go to.

We can learn to notice the thoughts and feelings coming, and instead of jumping on that thought train, we can learn to stand on the platform, let it pass, and wait for the right train that will take us to where we want to go.

 The Tunnel
When we get anxious driving through a tunnel, the best option is to keep going to the other end, rather than stop or look for an exit in the tunnel. This feeling will pass - there is an end to this tunnel.


The Mountain
Whatever the weather, or whatever happens on the surface of the mountain, and even within it - the mountain stands firm, mostly unaffected. Strong, grounded, permanent. We can be like that mountain, observing thoughts, feelings and sensations, and yet know inner stillness.

The Weather
We cannot control the weather, so we have to learn to adapt to it.  We can put a coat on for instance, but we cannot stop the wind or rain, and it would be foolish to try.  Regardless of what we do, the storm will pass.

Our thoughts and feelings are like the weather, they come and they go.  We cannot control or stop them, but we can learn to react to them differently.  If we give up the futile struggle to try and stop or control it, the storm of thoughts and feelings will pass.

Online Shopping
When we visit an online store, we tend to know what we are looking for.  We know our budget, the item we want, the colour, the size, how quickly we need it, and so on.  There may be hundreds of items advertised on the page, but we do not put every item we see into our shopping basket and buy them all.  That would be crazy.

However, we do tend to buy into each thought in our mind’s online shop front,  especially those thoughts that fit with the thinking habits we’ve got into.   If only we could treat them the same way as the online store!  Do I need to buy this thought, right now?  Can I afford it?  Is it going to be helpful?  Is it really true? 

Reset Button
When we feel emotional, we can feel overwhelmed and our thinking brain (the pre-frontal cortex) goes offline – just like our computer does sometimes when it tries to do too many processes at once.   To get our computers working again, we can either wait, or we can reset it.

We can use our mind’s reset mechanism by telling ourselves to STOPP  and breathe – a little slower, in through the nose, out through the mouth.  In thinking about our breathing, we have shifted our focus of attention and the emotional thoughts fade a little into the background.  In taking slower deeper breaths, we are calming our physical sensations of emotion.  This reduces the emotion enough to allow our thinking brain to come back online, enabling us to make more rational responses.

The Helicopter View

The Poisoned Parrot

The Mind Bully

Fake News!

Flexible Thinking

More Useful Therapy Metaphors

Automatic Thoughts

Different Perspectives

Fact Or Opinion?



Learn effective skills online -  The Decider Skills for Self Help online course

The Decider Therapeutic Skills online training for professionals


Self Help Books

Get Out Of Your Mind And Into Your Life

The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety:  A Guide to Breaking Free From Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy For Dummies

The Happiness Trap 

Act Made Simple:  An Easy-to-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (New Harbinger Made Simple)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy:  The Process and Practice of Mindful Change

A CBT Practitioner's Guide to ACT:  How to Bridge the Gap Between Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

ACTivate Your Life:  Using acceptance and mindfulness to build a life that is rich, fulfilling and fun

The Reality Slap


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