• Jessica Dattalo, LCSW

Help! My Brain is Trying to Sabotage Me!



Human beings are complex. The prefrontal cortex is the culprit of this complexity. It is the most advanced part of our brains responsible for higher-level thinking. While the prefrontal cortex has helped us survive and evolve, when overactive or unchecked, it can lead to a lot of suffering. It is a double-edged sword. The same advanced part of our brain that helps us problem solve, make decisions, socialize and make meaning of the world, can sometimes feel like it sabotages us.


● Uncontrolled worrying

● Ruminating

● Spiraling

● Blaming

● Shaming

● Feeling stuck


If you’ve ever felt frustrated or at war with your own brain and how it’s impacting the way you move about the world, keep reading.


So what do I do? An Introduction to Thought Defusion:


Thought Defusion is a powerful cognitive coping skill derived from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. In its simplest form, it is intentionally adding a layer of distance between our thoughts and the emotional pain they can bring. To mistake our thoughts as the truth of our experiences is being fused with our thoughts. Fusion is defined as combining two separate things into one whole. The skill here is de-fusing the two.


First, we must differentiate between thoughts and emotions. Thoughts are what our brain is saying. Emotions are what our bodies tell us. They influence one another but are two separate entities. We must also work toward trusting that our thoughts and feelings are not facts. Our feelings might help guide decision-making and connect us to our most authentic selves (when identified and experienced without judgment), but they are not absolute truths. They are merely our interpretations of our experiences.


We have thousands of thoughts each day, at least 6,000 to be exact. It is obviously not possible to become one with each of these 6,000 thoughts. Thought Defusion is simply recognizing we have the power to choose exactly which thoughts we pay attention to and which we observe without judgment and let pass.


When you recognize that your mind is racing, check in with yourself. Ask yourself, '‘Are these thoughts helpful or unhelpful?’'. This simple check-in can help identify when Thought Defusion can help. Some thoughts are helpful. “I think it’s going to rain, maybe I should bring an umbrella”. Other thoughts are unhelpful. “Ugh it’s cloudy again and looks crummy out. Crummy outside, crummy inside. My whole day is going to be ruined.”


A common way to practice this skill is to consider a metaphor. Imagine you are sitting outside on a lovely summer day. You’re looking up to the sky and observing the clouds. Your mind is the sky and your thoughts are clouds passing by. We make interpretations and meaning out of

them, but in reality, they are just clouds, just as thoughts are just thoughts. They move and pass and shape-shift with the wind and with time. Latching on to each cloud would only pull us away from enjoying the warmth of the sun, beautiful scenery, or companionship present around us.


A second way of practicing Thought Defusion is to consciously add that layer of separation. Instead of ‘'I’m emotional'’ try replacing it with ‘'I’m feeling emotional'’. Instead of, ‘'I’m terrible, I messed up again.’’ Try replacing it with ‘'The story I’m telling myself is that I’m terrible and messed up again’’. Instead of "This is all my fault", try "My anxiety is telling me this is all my fault". Notice the different internal sensations in even reading these sentences. The way we speak to ourselves certainly impacts our mood, our motivation, how we feel about ourselves and how we relate to others. Defusing from these thoughts by recognizing they do not define us allows us the power to choose how to engage with ourselves and the world.


These are some skills you can practice and build to increase self-compassion and even self-empowerment. Our mind is not the enemy, we just need to learn how to work with it! Thought Defusion can help.


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