acceptance

Overwhelming Emotion? Try Unfusing

Feeling bad? If, inside, you are saying, “I’m anxious,” or “I’m depressed,” or “I’m furious,” or any other overwhelming and unpleasant emotion, Try unfusing1—as in uncoupling—from it. Unfusing works way better than trying to wish or push away emotion. Pushing against emotions actually keeps us in contact with them (and increases the tension as an added bonus!). And wishing strong emotions away—we all know how well that works. Unfusing from emotions, in contrast, is like swimming out of deep, turbulent waters to the lapping shore. The tossing waves may still be there, but now they’re at a safe distance.

Here’s how unfusing works. Let’s take anxiety as an example (though you can use this technique with any emotion).

  1. Allow yourself to notice the feeling, and say out loud:
    “I am anxious.”
  2. Next, say out loud to yourself:
    “I am experiencing the feeling of anxiety.”
  3. Say aloud:
    “I notice I am experiencing the feeling of anxiety.”
  4. Say aloud:
    “I notice that sometimes I experience the feeling of anxiety.”
    (If it’s the first time you’ve felt anxiety, you can say “I notice that I am capable of feeling anxiety.”)

Notice how you feel now in relation to your experience before you did the unfusing. By voicing these successive variations, you are changing your inner world. The original emotion might still be there, but the “I” in every sentence (“I am experiencing… I notice…”)—this “I” is growing bigger and bigger relative to the emotion. Unfusing moves you from being anxious (“I am anxious”) to being the “I” that is experiencing and noticing and owning the emotion. You can feel your emotions in a more aware way, a way that is literally self-contained.

So, when intense emotions well up and it feels like you and the emotions are one and the same—fused together—you can unfuse from them. You may still experience them, but with greater tranquility. The emotions can be with you, and you can be with your emotions, and feel more possession of your self.


  1. This exercise is my adaptation of a concept and set of techniques in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) called defusion. See the Cognitive Fusion section of “The Six Core Processes of ACT”.
        Notes from a dictionary nerd: Why have I changed the word to unfuse? I wanted to use the word as a verb, and the verbal form of defusion, defuse, already has a meaning that is resonant in the context of strong emotions: “To remove the fuse from an explosive device” (OED). While I acknowledge that some intense emotions can lead to explosions of temper, I am loath to associate the world of human feeling with “an explosive device.” The adjective unfused was recorded in John Ash’s The new and complete dictionary of the English language (1775) as meaning “not fused, not put into a state of fusion.” This is closest to the concept that ACT is trying to get at, so I’ve shamelessly coined the verb unfuse from that adjective. 

5 Rules for Being a Good American

I saw Anne Lamott speak years ago, and something she recounted (told to her by a Jesuit priest friend named Tom) has stayed with me all these years:

There are 5 rules for being a good American:

  1. Don’t have anything wrong with you.
  2. If there is something wrong with you, fix it immediately.
  3. If you can’t fix it, hide it.
  4. If you can’t hide it, stay home—just don’t show up or you’ll make other people uncomfortable.
  5. But, if you insist on showing up anyway and making everyone else uncomfortable, at least have the decency to feel ashamed of yourself.

These rules enjoy multiple, frequent applications—to stigmas about and discomfort with ADHD, neuro-atypicality, mental illness, addiction, bereavement, physical challenges, varieties of gender and sexual orientation… to all kinds of human differences, in fact, that are too often seen as something wrong with you.

Show up. Be seen. Just as you are.


BrainPickings.org review: “Rewriting the Book of Belonging: Anne Lamott on the True Gift of Friendship and the Uncomfortable Art of Letting Yourself Be Seen”

*Anne Lamott*

I heartily recommend any of Lamott’s nonfiction. This woman is wise.

Are You Self-Actualized?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that we are all born to develop our gifts and strengths, and reach our fullest potential. He called this “self-actualization.”

Are you self-actualized?

If so, you:

  • Live life to the fullest
  • Work to fulfill your potential
  • Have a sense of mission or purpose in your life
  • See what is, rather than what should be
  • See problems as challenges to be solved
  • Accept yourself as you are
  • Accept others as they are
  • Accept the ways and acts of Nature as they are and as they occur
  • Exercise your creativity
  • Are spontaneous and playful, not rigid
  • Are and feel independent
  • Enjoy privacy and time alone
  • Establish and maintain loving bonds with others
  • Feel a kinship with humanity
  • Have a non-hostile sense of humor
  • Feel an ongoing appreciation of life, including the little things
  • Take and create opportunities to have “peak experiences ”

Don’t worry if you didn’t mentally check all of these, or most of them, or the coolest-sounding ones. Maslow believed that self-actualizing is the business of a lifetime, and that different aspects of self-actualization arise at different times in our lives.

The most important thing: appreciate your peak experiences. Peak experiences are times when you feel fully engaged, on top of the world, transcendent, fulfilled, at one with the way things are, expansive, at peace, joyful. Examples include climbing a mountain, winning an award, completing a work of art, watching a baby being born, connecting deeply with someone.…

Why is appreciating peak experiences so important? In the same spirit as the adage “you are what you eat,” you are what you attend to and savor and reflect on. Those moments when you are most in tune with your purpose and most in flow are moments when you are your truest self. Paying attention to, savoring, and reflecting on those moments make them yours, make them a lasting, fruitful part of your reality instead of forgotten episodes in an unread biography.

So, don’t worry if you didn’t check all the items in the above list, or most of them, or the coolest-sounding ones. Rather, take a moment now—an extended moment—to appreciate fully those accomplishments, those moments of beauty, those blessings you are fortunate to be able to include in your experience.

Go Fish in
Streams of Consciousness:

absenceacceptanceaccomplishmentADHDaimsanalysisannotationanxietyAPAappearanceappleappreciationargumentartistaskingattachmentattentionawarenessBatmanbeingblank mindblissboatboring!brainstormingbraverycandlescenter of gravitychoicechoosing collegecognitioncommunicationcompassionconclusionconfidenceconsciousnessconversationcreative writingcreativitydawdlingdiagnosisdoorsdramadreamdrinkingecologyemotionenergyessaysessentialevidenceexamexcitementexecutive functionexerciseexperienceexpositionfailurefearfeelingfightfigurationflowfootballfrederick douglassfreewritinggamegedankenexperimentgesturegetting startedgoalgrammarhappinesshealinghearthonorhopehumanideasimaginationimagination_exerciseimplexinnovationinspirationinstinctinterestjubileekinestheticknifeknowledgelogicloudlovemagicmanagemasterymeaningmechanicsmedicationmeditationmetacognitionmilitarymindmistakesMLAmothermotivationmountainnontraditional collegenote-takingnotesorganizeout-of-the-boxparticipationpartspassionpatiencepeak-experiencepedagogyperseverancepersistencephysicalizeplanplayingplaywrightingplotpoetrypositive pointingpre-writingpreferenceprepositionpresenceprioritiesprocessprocrastinationprofessorsproofreadingputteringquestionsreadingrealityreflectionrelationshiprelaxationrepresentationreservesresourcesresponseresponsibilityrevisingsanctuaryself-actualizationself-assessmentself-relianceseptembershort storysocratic methodsoulspacestorystrengthsstressstudyingsuccesssummariessynthesistalkingtasksteachingtechniquetest anxietytest-takingThanksgivingthemethesisthinkingtimetolerancetomorrowtreetrusttruthunderstandingveteransvisualizationvoicewaldorfwelcomewholewillwillpowerwomenwordsworkingwriter's blockwritingyearningyesterday

Categories