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Walking in the Street

Defusion is the act of separating ourselves from our thoughts, and recognising that thoughts are products of our minds. Defusion enables us to compartmentalise thoughts, disengage from them, examine them, and then accept or reject them as we wish. 

Defusion is the opposite of fusion. Fusion is the act of accepting and engaging with thoughts and holding them tightly. In ACT we recognise the value of embracing useful thoughts, for example as an athlete embraces a vision that he will kick a goal or surge to the front of a peloton, and how that will occur. But we want to discourage fusion with unhelpful thoughts.

The example of a person walking down the street, or through a mall, is one that simply explains the concept of fusion and defusion. 

Peter is at the mall, and encounters people heading in all sorts of direction as he walks toward the supermarket. He passes one person, then another, registering but not engaging with any of them, and continues to walk. 

But then he encounters Frank, who wants to stop and chat. Frank says, ‘hi, I have something to tell you’ and looks eager to stop and shake hands. But Peter is in a rush to reach the supermarket before closing and, after quickly acknowledging Frank with a ‘sorry, gotta go – let’s catch up!’ continues on his way. Frank then calls out ‘You won’t make it – the shops are already closed’. Peter nods to Frank in acknowledgement while continuing to walk to the shops.

In the supermarket, a teenager in a farmer’s outfit offers Peter a cheese tasting. Peter, wanting to finish his shopping, politely says ‘no thanks’ and continues with his shopping.

Peter’s actions in these cases represent defusion. Peter has notice and acknowledged Frank and the teenager, but consciously has avoided engaging with them.

Peter completes his shopping and leaves the supermarket. On his way out, he bumps into Jane. He recognises her as a fellow school parent and, having completed his shopping before closing time, they chat for a few minutes about their children before moving on. 

Peter’s encounter with Jane represents fusion. Peter saw Jane, noted that he knew her and consciously engaged in conversation.

If Peter stops and engages with Frank or anyone else during his walk to the supermarket, he becomes ‘fused’ within the conversation that results. There is, then, the potential for him to become influenced by that person, or what he or she had to say. On this occasion, he wasn’t ‘fused’ with Frank or the young cheese salesperson. Upon leaving the supermarket, Frank had achieved what he set out to do and chose to stop and speak with Jane, enjoying her company.

Defusion buffers against getting caught up by the presence of others or their comments. Defusion allows Peter to register Frank’s presence and comments, say ‘hi’ and then walk on without further engagement, and to buy cheese without being influenced by the unexpected tasting opportunity. Defusion allows Peter to reach his goal – which may be completing the shopping, or could be something bigger, such as ensuring he can cook a gourmet meal or even pleasing his partner.

Frank, the young farmer and the hundreds of people Peter saw at the mall represent the thoughts that involuntarily enter our minds every day – the criticisms, the doubts, the questions, the regrets about past behaviour and fears of future events, that bombard us.

Defusion enables us to acknowledge a thought and move on, without allowing it to affect us, our opinions about ourselves or others, or our choices. It includes the understanding that the thoughts should be acknowledged – in the same way that when driving, we must be aware of other cars on the road. But just as we can politely acknowledge an acquaintance in the street without stopping to spend time with him or her, or move into another lane and drive past another car on the road, so can we recognise thoughts, mentally nod in acknowledgement, and move on.


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