What is cognitive fusion in ACT?

Cognitive fusion is a concept that lies at the heart of ACT. In essence, cognitive fusion refers to the tendency of individuals to become “fused” with their thoughts, feelings, emotions, narratives, etc. any stuff that can happen between your ears (we call them “cognititions”). I mean they identify so strongly with their internal narratives that these narratives become dominating over their behavior. Here I give you a sugar-version of the post. My critical notes are coming soon. For now let’s assume that cognitive fusion can lead to a range of mental health problems, from anxiety and depression to self-doubt and fear.

So, here I will explore the concept of cognitive fusion in more detail, explaining why it is such a pervasive problem and how ACT can help you to overcome it. We will discuss the role of defusion techniques in ACT, which are designed to help individuals detach from their thoughts and emotions and develop greater mental flexibility. I will also provide practical tips and strategies for overcoming cognitive fusion in daily life, helping you to live a more fulfilling and satisfying existence. So, whether you are struggling with mental health challenges or simply seeking to develop greater self-awareness and emotional intelligence, this article is for you. Let’s dive in!

Definition of Cognitive Fusion

Cognitive fusion refers to a state in which we become so identified with our thoughts that we treat them as if they are objective facts or truths, rather than just mental events. In other words, cognitive fusion occurs when we are so caught up in our thoughts that we lose sight of the fact that they are simply products of our minds.

For example, imagine you are walking down the street and someone passes you without acknowledging your presence. If you have a thought like “They ignored me because I’m not worth noticing,” and you believe this thought without question, you are experiencing cognitive fusion. In this state, you are not able to distance yourself from the thought and see it for what it is – just a passing mental event.

Cognitive fusion can lead to problems because it can cause us to become stuck in unhelpful patterns of thinking and behavior. For example, if we have no doubts about our negative thoughts, we may avoid situations or people that trigger those thoughts, which can limit our opportunities and lead to social isolation. Or, we may engage in unhelpful behaviors like compulsive checking or reassurance-seeking in an effort to manage our anxious thoughts.

Cognitive defusion, on the other hand, refers to the process of becoming less fused with our cognitions. In other words, it is a skill that allows us to see thoughts as mental events that come and go, rather than as true facts.

Why is Cognitive Fusion a Problem?

Cognitive fusion limits your experience

Yeap. If your inner processes are true – you naturally try to avoid any triggers of negative cognitions. And as you know this world can be quite harsh. So, you avoid risky places and events, your life gets poorer of experience, you feel worther.

Cognitive fusion is connected to mental health issues

Social anxiety, overthinking, ruminating, depression, imposter syndrome and many more conditions have cognitive fusion as crucial element. For example, if you believe the thought “I’m a failure,” without question, you may experience feelings of worthlessness, which can lead to depression or anxiety.

Cognitive fusion lower your chances to reach your goals

If you believe you can never succeed, you may give up on pursuing your goals. But, surprisingly, even if you fused with “positive” though “I should always succeed” – no big difference. You will avoid the possibilities where you potentially can be not successful. One day I will write the post about negative effects of positive thinking. Stay tuned.

Alternatively, we may set unrealistic goals based on our unhelpful thoughts, which can lead to frustration and disappointment.

Overall, cognitive fusion can limit our ability to live a fulfilling and meaningful life.

How Does ACT Help with Cognitive Fusion?

ACT is an experiential approach. You see before psychotherapy tried to change negative to positive, tried to “cure” mind, “fix” it. ACT is super holistic approach (that is one reason why I am so obsessed with it). The  ideology of ACT draws attention to human suffering as part of evolutionary processes. 

Human language based on Relational Frame Theory is a developing instrument. If we think about conditions where language appeared and developed we will see there was a material world. I doubt that the first humans tried to express their feelings or were solving philosophical issues. I think they just tried to survive. To survive you need a really limited set of words, nothing extravagant.

Nowadays the biggest part of our life is inside of us. Information, emotions, feelings, thoughts… all that non-materialistic continuum. So, it is not surprise our language s little bit old fashioned and not super appropriate instrument for handling cognitions. Phew. I did it. In short – somewhere inside of us we still act with cognitions like they are material. We try to stop thinking, we want to control “that” emotions, we believe if we try harder..

On the contrary, ACT offers a more progressive way. Cognitive fusion works only if you believe in the reality of cognitions, truly believe. Oh, by the way, this is what cognitive fusion is. This is a necessary basement for this belief.  ACT kindly and with fun will teach you to see your inner processes as they are. 

ACT has one of the best and most developed sets of techniques. We use mindfulness, acceptance, proactiveness, value-based actions and much-much more. Here I want to post a picture of Morphey from the Matrix where he invited Neo to explore how deep this rabbit hole is. I hope I will stay away.

Techniques for Overcoming Cognitive Fusion in ACT

ACT provides several techniques that you can use to work with cognitive fusion and promote psychological flexibility. 

Measure your cognitive fusion and psychological inflexibility here:

Cognitive Fusion Questionnaire (CFQ)

The Acceptance and Action Questionnaire – II

Cognitive Defusion Techniques: These exercises involve learning to observe and defuse from our cognitions. I don’t want to describe them in details. It is not so useful and your therapist will introduce you better.

Mindfulness Practices allow you to concentrate your focus here and now. It helps to see that your inner narratives are just stories that our Inner Dictator tells us about us. Although it is our right to follow them or not. If your skills allow you to do that.

Values-Based Action. One of the most favorite parts of ACT for me right now. I think you already got that gain all that skills will be not easy. So, you definitely nedd to know why should you try. Values enlight your direction to your true self.

Tips for Implementing These Techniques in Daily Life:

  • Practice regularly: Just like physical exercise, ACT techniques require regular practice to be effective. Set aside a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness or cognitive defusion exercises.
  • Start small: Don’t try to tackle all of your unhelpful thoughts and beliefs at once. Start with one or two thoughts that are particularly bothersome and practice defusing from them.
  • Be patient: Overcoming cognitive fusion takes time and practice. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. Stick with the techniques and trust the process.
  • Seek support: Consider working with a therapist or attending an ACT workshop to get additional support and guidance.

I hope you liked this post. I will appreciate comments, suggestions, repost or sharing. I would be glad to know if you have any questions about cognitive fusion. Trust me, this topic has many more layers and I hope you will join me in my ACT-journey. Have fun.

Author: Dmytro Shevchenko – psychotherapist, ACT-therapist.

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