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Thought Diffusion

Thought diffusion is a technique used to help counter and challenge catastrophic thoughts and cognitive distortions such as “All or Nothing" or "Mind Reading." (It might be a good idea to review the cognitive distortions at this point if you have not already)


For example:

“Everyone hates me and thinks I’m stupid.”

This statement is obviously very severe and obtuse.  

Diffusing it is fairly straight forward:  

  • First, Awareness and Acceptance. Notice that you are having a negative thought. This may sound obvious, but there is a difference between stressing about "everyone hating you and thinking you are stupid" and acknowledging that you are stressing about “everyone hating you and thinking you are stupid." Mindfulness meditation and Radical Acceptance can prep you for this task. 

  • Second, Recognition.  Which cognitive distortion is at work? In this case, there are two; All or Nothing Thinking, and Mind-Reading.

  • Third, Challenge  We begin to defuse the distortion by challenging the validity. “Everyone hates me” is drastic so when we step back, it’s very unlikely that EVERYONE hates you. The same goes for "everyone thinks I’m stupid." Can you actually read minds? Most people find it’s much easier to challenge negative thoughts when they are intentional about it.  


This complete process becomes easier and almost automatic with time and practice.  The quicker one can begin the process of diffusion the easier it is to recognize the distortions dissolve them. 

Let’s look at a second example:

Negative Thought: “I’m going to lose my job and never find another one."

So after we are aware of and accept that we are having the negative thought, we then recognize what Cognitive distortion is happening  The word "never" is what makes this statement an "all or nothing" statement.  

Diffusing the scenario:  

  • If I lose my job, how likely is it that I won’t find another job?  

  • What can I do to prevent losing my job?

  • What can I do to prepare for losing my job?

  • Can I find a better job?

  • Who can help me in the situation?

All of these questions take a tense situation and an “Absolute Statement" and help to diffuse the tension and problem solve the situation.  They also work toward easing emotion surrounding the situation. 


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