ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) Teaches Defusion as the Way to Accept Negative Thoughts

ACT is effective because it teaches us to not add fuel to negative emotions. Trying to change them is futile and a waste of energy. Think of a large checkerboard with large black and white chess pieces. These chess pieces are our emotions. One is not better than the other.

“ACT uses three broad categories of techniques: mindfulness, including being present in the moment and defusion techniques; acceptance; and commitment to values-based living.”

Each day I am going to add defusion techniques to practice after you have noticed the negative thought. Everyone has anxiety but by learning to accept it and defuse it, we can live a calmer life. “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Notice when you attempt to avoid anxiety. Don’t struggle to change or fight your feelings. It will pass.

In defusing anxiety or negative thoughts, defusion helps you learn how to step back from the thought or feeling and to learn to observe it only. Defusion doesn’t lessen feelings because this would be fighting them again. Rather it is teaching you to disconnect from them by observing them.


Passengers on a bus metaphor—you can be the bus driver with all your noisy thoughts being critical or shouting out at you. Allow the thoughts or feelings to shout but you keep your attention on the road ahead.

The Helicopter View
When something is distressing us, we’re so close to it, involved with it, part of it – it’s really hard to stand back from what’s happening. We see the close up view, but we can’t see anything else. It’s like the well-known saying: “We can’t see the wood for the trees”. If we could zoom out our view, like a helicopter hovering above, we’d be able to see the bigger picture. We could stand back, be less emotionally involved, and see a different perspective.
Playground bully metaphor:

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.

This ACT defusing technique was in a 2005 book by Steven Hayes, the main creator of ACT:
The Quicksand
Suppose you come across someone standing in the middle of a pool of quicksand – there are no ropes or tree branches available. The only way you can help is by talking to them. The person shouts “HELP! GET ME OUT!”, and is beginning to do what people do – struggling to get out. 99.9% of the time, the effective action to take is to walk, run, step, hop, or jump out of trouble.
Not with quicksand. Normally, to step out of something, you need to lift one foot and move the other forward. With quicksand, that’s a bad idea. Once one foot is lifted, all the person’s weight rests on only the other foot (half the previous surface area), and the downward pressure doubles. The person sinks deeper.

As you watch, you see them starting to sink deeper. If you understand how quicksand works, you might shout at them to lie flat, spread-eagled, to maximize contact with the surface. The person therefore probably won’t sink, and might be able to roll to safety. Since the person is trying to get out of the quicksand, it goes against all their natural instincts to maximize body contact with it. Someone struggling to get out of the mud, may never realize that the wise and safer action is to get with the mud.

Our own lives can be very much like this. The normal problem-solving methods that we use (sometimes repeatedly for years) to try to deal with the struggles we face, may themselves be part of the problem, just like someone trying to get free of the quicksand. ACT offers something very different, to help us free ourselves from the quicksand we find ourselves in, but to get with it. By doing so, we can relieve our suffering and become empowered to lead valued, meaningful, dignified human lives.

Steven C Hayes (2005). ‘Get Out of Your Mind and into Your Life ‘.
New Harbinger. Oakland

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Ego Deflation Has Been a Constant Throughout My Recovery

15747101962_122092446b_bSometimes I only come to change after God and/or the Universe hits me up against the side of the head with a 2×4. I recently read somewhere (I scan over 300 blogs so it is hard to remember where I’ve read something) that our growth comes about every 7 years. It is spread out which is the good news. I only know to put my head down and bully through it. To avoid it, is disastrous.

From Growing Along Spiritual Lines: “Ego Deflation“:

I bounced along the bottom for many years while spirit dozed on the couch in front of the TV.  Spirit woke up when I finally reached out for help after the pain became unbearable. I must have let go of a ton of ego, because I floated into my first meeting on a pink cloud.  My outside circumstances hadn’t changed, but something was going on inside me that I didn’t understand. I had no urge to take a drink. I felt downright blissful. Like any good alcoholic I wanted more. I wanted to keep this great feeling alive. You pointed to the steps on the wall.

The pink cloud wore off in a couple of months, but by this time I had a sponsor and was well into my spiritual journey through the steps. Ego began to fall away with each successive step. Huge chunks broke off when I saw my part in resentments, shared my secrets, and made heartfelt amends during my ninth step. Slowly I began to get glimpses of God working in my life. These God-shots were like white pebbles leading out of the dark forest of self-will. God was no longer an idea in my head. God became a living experience and remains so today.Ego is like an invisible wall that separates me from God and you and everything wonderful in life. The steps dissolve ego much like a bucket of water melts the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. But unlike the Wicked Witch, Ego has a tricky way of reconstituting itself. If I am not continuing to grow and change through the steps, the wall rebuilds itself. Sooner or later I’m alone again. All alone.

From al-an journal: “The Path of Change”:

I’ve been off the grid for a few months, working through some massive changes in my life. By off the grid, I mean off of blog writing, not my Al-anon program. I guess you could say I’ve been more in tune with my program than ever during this time. But I needed to focus, limit distractions, because I knew that real change would require it. I am so easily distracted by the bright shiny lights my ego tosses out for me.

In these past few months, I have noticed an almost unrecognizable person inhabiting my body. Unrecognizable, but more authentic than before. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? How is it that authenticity could be so hidden that it’s unrecognizable? I guess I have my character defects to thank for that.

When I look back a ways, I can see that there was turning point for me; the day my sponsor asked me to make amends to myself, and with her guidance, I did so, wholeheartedly.  Like most change, there was no big Shazam! Just a subtle shift that altered perspective enough to set me on a different path.

The geometry of change is an interesting thing. Take something headed due north, and turn it one little click to the right, then let it keep running. At first the change is almost imperceptible. But over time the distance grows exponentially between where it was going and where it is. One small change builds on itself over time, and over time, the cumulative result becomes surprisingly large.

It took six months or so for the effects of change to start showing up in my life, but they did. Decisions I made were different. Resentments I let go of freed me. Each little thing that I did differently set me on a path to a whole new place, and now the landscape of my life looks wildly different than it did a year ago.

The changes have not been small.   We sold the house we’ve lived in for the last fourteen years, and moved to a more affordable area, where we rent a house less than half the size of our old one. This week I will go from being a person with a ridiculous amount of debt to a person with almost none. And I experienced the beauty of Europe this summer, something I have “waited for” my entire life. A gift from a friend, which up until now, I would not have accepted.

It’s been a big summer. One click to the right and the places I find myself in now are nothing I could have imagined. The hardest part of all of it is that I have physically moved away from the Al-Anon community that helped me get to this place. I miss them. I feel like a teenager leaving the womb to take the next indicated step, off to college. It’s the bittersweet, but inevitable result of growth. And even though the specific people I have grown up with cannot come with me, the program they taught me will.  They have been an expression of my higher power, one that I have been able to hear.  So today I will attend an Al-Anon meeting in my new community.   My guess is that they will accept me, and love me, in the same way the old group did, because that’s how it’s done in this program.  And I am grateful.

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