DBT Skills: Emotion Regulation and Acceptance
In a previous post we looked at some ways to practice letting go of thoughts, but it can often be difficult to let of thoughts because they have such a powerful pull, especially when the thoughts are related to a strong emotion. In my post, What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?, we learned why acceptance is so important in ACT. Cognitive defusion is a way of accepting our thoughts, allowing them to pass into and out of our minds, without getting stuck in our heads.
Steven Hayes, who developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), coined the term “cognitive fusion” to describe times when we are so tightly stuck to our thoughts, we become “fused” to them. When we’re experiencing cognitive fusion, we can’t separate ourselves from our thoughts. Our thoughts become our reality. We feel removed from the world outside of our thoughts, removed from our senses, from what we’re doing, and even from the people around us.
The opposite of “cognitive fusion” is “cognitive defusion.” Cognitive defusion involves taking a step back from what’s going on in our minds, and detaching a little from our thoughts. In this state of defusion, we can observe our thoughts and other internal processes without getting lost in them, stuck in them or fused with them. We can simply notice our thoughts, watch them, accept them and let them go if we choose to.
- external events outside our control
- spontaneous emotions, thoughts and memories
- pain or physical sensations
In an earlier post, we introduced the concept of acceptance and talked about some of its benefits. Acceptance is one of the foundations of a mindfulness-based approach to treating anxiety and depression called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
In the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy-based workbook, The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Depression, Kirk Strosah and Patricia Robinson explain some misconceptions people often have about acceptance. First, they define acceptance:
The word “acceptance” has a lot of different meanings, some of which we want to challenge. The type of acceptance we encourage you to practice is best thought of as a voluntary, intentional stance of nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations in the context of a triggering event.
The benefits you can experience from learning to become more mindful are virtually limitless. Mindfulness allows you to relate to and deal directly with whatever is happening in your life. Instead of struggling to escape, suppress or avoid distressing thoughts and feelings, mindfulness helps you approach whatever is going on in your life, in your thoughts, and with your emotions, without becoming overwhelmed.
When you start being more mindful and start living in the present moment, you’ll experience your life more fully, and become more in touch with yourself, who you are, what is important to you, and what you want out of life.