'All too often we react to our thoughts as if they are the absolute truth, or as if we must give them all our attention. The psychological jargon for this reaction is ‘cognitive fusion’.'
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Russ Harris, the author of The Happiness Trap, explains to us the difference between cognitive fusion and cognitive defusion.
‘Cognition’ is the technical term for a product of the mind, such as a thought, image or memory. ‘Fusion’ means a blending or melding together. ‘Cognitive fusion’ means that the thought and the thing it refers to—the story and the event—become blended.
Thus, we react to words about a lemon as if a lemon is actually present; we react to words in a crime novel as if someone really is about to be murdered; we react to words like ‘I’m useless’ as if we actually are useless; and we react to words like ‘I’m going to fail’ as if failure is a foregone conclusion.
In a state of cognitive fusion, it seems as if:
- Thoughts are reality—as if what we’re thinking were actually happening.
- Thoughts are the truth—we completely believe them.
- Thoughts are important—we take them seriously and give them our full attention.
- Thoughts are orders—we automatically obey them.
- Thoughts are wise—we assume they know best and we follow their advice.
- Thoughts can be threats—some thoughts can be deeply disturbing or frightening.
Cognitive defusion reminds us that thoughts are just words.
In a state of defusion, we recognise:
- Thoughts are merely sounds, words, stories or bits of language.
- Thoughts may or may not be true; we don’t automatically believe them.
- Thoughts may or may not be important; we pay attention only if they’re helpful.
- Thoughts are definitely not orders; we certainly don’t have to obey them.
- Thoughts may or may not be wise; we don’t automatically follow their advice.
- Thoughts are never threats; even the most negative of thoughts is not deeply disturbing or frightening.
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