When Your Thoughts Become your Reality

By Tracey Soghrati BSc.N, MA, RN, RP (Q), C-IAYT


Cognitive fusion happens when you believe your thoughts are facts while remaining unaware of the thinking process. And when you’re experiencing fusion (which we all do) you struggle to grasp that your thoughts are simply mental events that come and go. Instead, you react to each thought as if it’s reality and breed a world of suffering. 

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), cognitive ‘defusion’ is a core process in facilitating psychological flexibility, alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress and trauma. Practicing defusion involves stepping back and looking at the thoughts rather than getting trapped in patterns of thinking that maintain emotional pain. This is simple in theory and difficult in practice because it takes awareness, motivation, commitment and time. 

You can begin by exploring 6 common areas of cognitive fusion (past, future, self, rules, reasons and judgement) (Harris, 2019).

Past fusion includes rumination over painful events, or telling yourself that you can’t do something important (e.g.: stop drinking) because of the way your past has affected you (e.g.: childhood neglect). It can also look like idealizing a point in the past prior to a specific event (e.g.: death of a loved one). Similarly, future fusion includes catastrophizing and avoidance (e.g.: if I try to go back to school, I’ll fail and everyone will see I’m a loser), or idealization (I’ll be happy when I’ve lost 150 lbs). 

Fusion with a narrow construct of self may include beliefs that you are bad, unlovable, damaged, broken or worthless. Likewise, you might be fused with the thought that you’re always right or better than others. Can you see how fusion in either direction (damaged vs. always right) might cause suffering?

Judgement fusion occurs with thoughts about the past, future, your body, life, or the world. It’s amplified when we compare one thing against the other and buy into socially constructed expectations and preferences (e.g.: my body is gross because it’s too hairy, too fat, too skinny, too weak etc.). 

Reason fusion happens when you buy into all the reasons why you can’t or won’t change (e.g.: It’s too hard, I’m too tired, depressed, anxious etc.). Fusion with reasons includes self-concept barriers (I’m too shy or too poor), and blame (It’s my parents’ fault). 

Fusion with rules happens when we live by words like must, have to, and should. These rules dictate our choices and interfere with an authentic exploration of personal values and wellbeing. They’re evident by the stories you tell yourself about how you’re supposed to be. 

Which area of cognitive fusion is interfering with your ability to live a meaningful life? What would happen if you stopped giving those thoughts so much power?


Tracey Soghrati is passionate about mind-body healing, and she’s spent her life exploring the intersection between mindfulness, psychology and our relationships.