ACT and Thought Defusion


Q: How can I get rid of troublesome thoughts?

A: You can’t, but you can learn to look at them differently.

Thought Defusion is another pillar-stone of ACT.  Learning to separate ourselves from our thoughts, to distance ourselves from our thinking is one of the key skills that we can learn to reduce our suffering.  For yes, we do cause a lot of our own suffering.

Sometimes our suffering comes to us from external events that we cannot change.  That suffering is part of the human condition.  Learning to accept it as such, as a natural part of human experience, is another dimension of ACT.

However, for now we are talking about our thinking, and how our thoughts can, and often do cause us to suffer.  Learning a different way to respond to our thoughts, what ACT calls Thought Defusion can be very helpful.

In a previous post, ACT and Worrisome Thoughts, we saw how our mind has evolved to err on the side of caution, to look for the negatives and to be on constant red alert.  This is the mind’s natural default position, if you like, and it is like that for a reason.  In evolutionary terms this kind of cautious mind helped us to sniff out danger and survive.  It is this mind-set that 21st century man has inherited, and sometimes it causes us problems.

One of the main aims of ACT is to help us to develop psychological flexibility so that we can learn to respond to the world, both external and internal, in more helpful and meaningful ways.  Thought Defusion is one of the tools that we can use to increase our psychological flexibility.

Most of us take our thoughts far too seriously.  I know I do!  I tend to think that because I am thinking something it must be important, it must be true and I must pay it a lot of attention!  None of that is necessarily the case.  ACT isn’t so much interested in whether a thought is true or false or right or wrong.  ACT is more interested in whether or not a thought is useful or not, or in ACT terms is it workable?  If it is hang on to it, if not let it go.

It helps me to remember that a thought is just a thought.  It is just a string of words, and I have made them up.  I am not my thoughts.  My thoughts are not me.  I had a lot of trouble with this, I can tell you, but learning to distance myself from my thoughts, to see that I am the thinker and not the thought has helped me a lot.





  • How do you cope with troublesome thoughts?
  • Can you create distance from your thoughts and see them as just bits of content passing through?
  • What can you share that might be of help to others?

Please leave your comments. I would love to hear from you.




It comes from out of nowhere, it’s the thought we like the least,

It’s the one that most torments us, and once it has been released

It is spiralling within us, a freak storm out of control,

And we’re overcome with anguish as it seeps into our soul.

Where it comes from doesn’t matter, but the old familiar ring

Sets up the old familiar struggle, but it’s here now that’s the thing,

And we’re learning that the struggle doesn’t help us much at all,

It’s just fuel for the thinking we are trying to forestall.

And so let’s try another tactic, for we’re told another way

To respond to stinking thinking is to let it have its day

And be willing to accept it whilst it’s here, just as it is,

Maybe look at it with interest without getting in a tizz.

And it maybe that the thinking that disturbs us will abate,

Or maybe we’ll have to let it be and learn to tolerate

The discomfort it occasions, well we can do that you know

If we make a space inside and let our thoughts just come and go.

And we needn’t make them sticky, we need not with them engage,

We can stop the feeding frenzy that occurs when war we wage,

And we needn’t make them magical with powers from afar,

For our thoughts are only strings of words and that is all they are.

© Corinne Shields, 2015

If you enjoyed “STRINGS OF WORDS”, please pass it on, and do please leave your comments.  I would love to hear from you.

And just before you go …..

A final word from ACT ……….

ACT suggests lots of techniques for helping us to defuse from our thoughts.  Some of them may seem outlandish, but if they work for you that’s all that matters. Amongst the more wacky ones are:

  • Singing a thought out loud to one of these well-known tunes

Happy Birthday

She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain

Jingle Bells


  • Saying the thought in the voice of someone famous, or a cartoon character like

Donald Duck

Homer Simpson

The idea behind these techniques is to try to take the sting out of our thoughts, to reduce them to just the bits of language that they are.  When we have difficult, troublesome thoughts it helps to notice how we verbalise these thoughts to ourselves.  I know when I am having these kinds of thoughts I am verbalising them to myself in a very dark and macabre way.  I am literally scaring myself to death.

If you take the same thought, the same words, and start singing it to Happy Birthday, and I have done that, the thought doesn’t seem nearly as frightening or important.  Try it and see, preferably not in public!!

For more Thought Defusion techniques Oliver, Hill ad Morris’ book

Product Details

is very illuminating, and has lots of useful worksheets. I am reading it at the moment and really enjoying it.

Which brings us to the……

ACTivation POINT!

SO …………………………..

Just-for-today-my thoughts

How about YOU?

What can YOU do just for today to ACTivate your life?

 Just for today I will …………………………..

If you have read this far, please do leave your comments. How is ACT helping you?

I am a student of ACT. I am on a journey. I would love you to join me.

With all good wishes