There is an innate ability that all humans seem to have, we are experts at what other people should do. This skill is honed throughout the lifespan as we learn through television, movies, novels, and works of literature the courses of action that characters should take. For some this is a valuable skill. The irony is that if we could apply this skill to ourselves we’d certainly be much better off. We frequently get caught up in our own internal emotions and make poor choices as a result of our faulty logic and poor internal dialogue. The reality is that these poor choices are self inflicted wounds, metaphorical bombs that we throw at ourselves. We indeed can be our own worst enemies. In my last post we discussed the internal world of our mind and how it influences us. (See “Dimension Of Mind”, February 26, 2014.) This post will discuss some strategies to walk through the minefield of our dysfunctional thinking.
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy there is a strategy called Defusion which attempts to teach a more realistic, and less emotional connection to our thoughts. We usually believe our thinking because, after all, it must be true because we thought it. Most of us usually run with it from there, making snap decisions, quick judgments, shooting from the lip, and doing things that we later regret. Such things done consistently over a long period of time can create many of the emotional disorders that people eventually seek treatment for. The goal of Defusion is to disengage, disarm, and disconnect from such thinking so as to allow for better decision-making, improved self talk, and better outcomes. At times it is almost like being a member of a bomb squad, trying to defuse an explosive device. It can be tricky, but this is a skill that can be learned, and it is a valuable intrapersonal skill to develop.
When faced with triggering situations we don’t always have the ability to literally walk away from them. The goal of defusion is to mentally “take a big step back,” see the larger picture, and make a more rational choice.” Better choices lead to better thinking, and thus less stressful and painful feelings. While there are countless strategies that one can use I’m going to develop a few of them here. Your task is to see which ones work for you, expand upon and develop your own skills, and to use them regularly. Over a period of time these skills will become automatic and increase your ability to cope with triggering situations that now cause difficulty .
Gaining some separation from this style of thinking is the first goal. Notice your thoughts. For example, instead of having the thought that, “I am really angry,” it’s far more helpful to say to yourself, “I’m having the thought that I am angry,” or “I am thinking that I am angry.” This creates a subtle, but important distinction-I am not my thoughts. “I can’t take anymore of this,” would be replaced by “I am having the feeling that I can’t take anymore of this.” Noticing what you are saying to yourself is important here. By noticing, you have to evaluate and are stepping back and viewing the events as if it’s happening outside of you. Remember that we are all good at telling other people what to do. That’s what you’re doing here, viewing the situation as if it is happening to someone else, stepping out of your emotions and looking at the bigger picture.
Another thing to take note of early on is what’s going on physically with you, at that moment, in a mindful way. Be aware of the present moment rather than being “in your head.” Notice things either in your environment or internally that you weren’t aware of before to slow down what’s happening. The best strategy is to breathe. Take a few breaths and mindfully breathe if at all possible. There are many suggestions in the categories section of this blog that can help you use the mind body connection to improve your mindfulness skills. These strategies, practiced frequently, are excellent for stress relief but also help with defusing triggering events.
Other strategies that people find helpful:
The Helicopter- Imagine that you are in a helicopter at that moment, viewing the situation from above, as if you could literally see the entire situation as if it was happening to someone else. (Remember how great we are at telling other people what they should do?)
The Tunnel-imagine that the task you are working on is being done in a tunnel. Imagine during the performance of the task where you are in the tunnel at that time. Imagine “the light at the end of the tunnel,” and work toward getting there.
The Third Person-Tell your story to yourself as if it was happening to someone else. This is one of the reasons why psychotherapy tends to be effective. People tell their story to a therapist, and in relaying the story they have to step out of the emotion in order to explain it. You don’t need a therapist to use this therapeutic technique. You can tell the story to yourself, but use someone else’s name by changing the first name in the story from your own to that of someone else. This creates distance from the emotion, tends to diffuse, and leads to better outcomes.If need be, write the story down.
Voice Changing-Change the voice of your internal dialogue to something novel or humorous. For example, if negative dialogue is discussed in the voice of Homer Simpson, Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, or some other cartoon character it’s likely to feel different, less threatening, and less real.
Recognizing Your Story-Over time we carry inside us stories that become our truths, but are not necessarily factual. Being able to look in the mirror and say to yourself, “Oh, here comes my I am ugly story,” or being able to say to yourself, “Here comes my I’m incompetent story,” tends to allow you to see the bigger picture and defuses problematic thinking.
The Mind-View your mind as a separate reality from what’s really going on. Remember the format: the way we think, affects the way we feel, the way we feel effects the way we act, and the way we act leads to consequences and behavior.
This formula can help you be more objective when analyzing thoughts and behaviors. The thoughts and feelings are bracketed because they are internal experiences, and we have control over them. If we control them then we control our actions and, as a result, the consequences of our actions. This acronym is best remembered if it is converted into a word “TEEFAK.” This basic formula in essence is cognitive behavioral therapy made simple. (Email me at email@example.com for my free e-book, “CBT Made Simple: A Quickstart Guide To Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” for more information on easy implementation of CBT.)
These are merely a handful of some of the strategies you can use to defuse problematic situations and make better choices. Study your own behavior and find out what kind of things you do that could be put into the category of “self inflicted wounds.” If you are honest with yourself, you’ll find that there are quite a few. If you are willing to work on yourself, you’ll find there is a lot you can do to change them.
“CBT Made Simple: A Quickstart Guide To Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” is available for free by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s my Thank You to you for following my blog.
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