Becoming your "observing self" and imagining painful thoughts and feelings as 'actors' on a stage can help them lose their impact. Image courtesy of scottchan at freedigitalphotos.net
Defusion, or ‘unhooking’ yourself from unhelpful thoughts and feelings can be challenging, particularly at first. Here are some common difficulties experienced with defusion and useful ways to overcome them.
1. uncomfortable or painful thought or feeling is still present. The idea behind defusion is not to get rid of these kinds of painful thoughts and feelings. It's to 'take a step back' or disentangle yourself from them so they lose their impact, and it's easier for you to engage in meaningful action even if they are present..
2. Difficulty in knowing which kind of thoughts to disentangle yourself from. This can be done by not by asking yourself if the thought is a ‘positive’ one or a ‘negative’ one. It's to ask if the uncomfortable thought or feeling is a helpful one. It is a helpful one if it helps you to realign your behaviour with your value system, what's important to you.
( If a negative thought creates more useful behaviour, that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. You may study harder for an exam if you have a thought “I may fail”. So in this way a negative thought will help you to work harder to create the kind of life you want)
In addition, going over useful responses in your mind or becoming absorbed in material you need to study for can be useful examples of fusion.
**When a thought appears, if it’s helpful then use it, if it’s not defuse it.” Page 68 “The Happiness Trap Pocketbook” by Russ Harris & Bev Aisbett.
3 You are not sure how often to practice defusion techniques. Pick one or two defusion techniques and practice them at least 10 times per day. However, the more frequently you can practice them, the better. Recall from previous articles that defusion techniques are "I notice myself having the thought that...", Singing the thought to the tune of "Happy Birthday" and seeing thoughts and feelings as actors in a show (see 4 below as well as further suggestions).
4. Think of your mind as having two components – firstly the Thinking Self, and secondly, the Observing Self. The Observing self is the part of the mind you engage in when you practice defusion. It’s the part that can dispassionately ‘take a step back’ and ‘watch your Thinking Self’.
The Observing Self is responsible for “attention, awareness, consciousness, noticing, observing.” Page 69 “The Happiness Trap Pocketbook” by Russ Harris and Bev Aisbett. It can thus can be more accurate at assessing a situation objectively. By contrast, the Thinking self
“Thinks, plans, judges, compares, creates, visualises, imagines and analyses” Page 69, “The Happiness Trap Pocketbook” by Russ Harris and Bev Aisbett.
5. You can imagine the thoughts as noise a radio makes in the background while you are trying to do something. If they are helpful – sure, engage with them and if they’re not, don’t!
6. Focus on all the feelings in your body as you breathe as you inhale and exhale slowly ten times. Imagine your thoughts are like passing cars. You note that they’re there as you breathe but stay focussed on your breathing the whole time.
7. You can become unhelpfully fused with images, just as you can do with thoughts. For example you may have an upcoming holiday and an unhelpful picture in your head that continues to bother you is the plane crashing.
• Try imagining it on a television screen. Play it in slow motion, rewind it, change it to black and white. Can you see it more now for what it is, just a picture?
• You can try adding a funny title, or a silly voiceover or strange music to disengage from the unhelpful image.
• Mentally shift the location of the image that’s bothering you, so it’s on a shirt, canvas, comic or postage stamp.
• If it’s a moving image change the genre to a different genre, such as a cartoon, western, science fiction or soap opera.
(suggestions from page 74, 75 “The Happiness Trap Pocketbook by Russ Harris and Bev Aisbett.)
Remember this skill like any other improves with practice. To avoid becoming disheartened, be patient with yourself, remember the more you do it, the better you’ll become. Don’t expect changes overnight, but over time, they will happen!