We have already identified cognitive fusion as the source of much unnecessary suffering. How, then, do we “cognitively de-fuse”? The first step is to recognize our fused, unconscious state. There are telltale signs.
Forms of Cognitive Fusion
Cognitive fusion takes place in several common categories of thinking. Learning these categories is a first step to recognizing their influence in your life.
The Conceptualized Self
The conceptualized self is a term used to describe the self-identity or self-concept that we have identified with throughout life, usually since childhood. For example, my view of myself as being too introverted and not social enough has a ring of truth, yet I am much more than those characteristics. My self-concept cannot possibly give a true picture of the depth of my thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Like a photograph that can’t possibly convey the experience of a live scene, the conceptualized self is a fixed, rigid concept that only tells part of the story. Whether it is positive or negative, fusion with this conceptualized self serves to limit the ways in which we can experience the world and ties us to a static sense of self.
Here’s one example of how this type of cognitive fusion leads to suffering. If we are fused with a conceptualized self and someone intentionally says something insulting about us in our presence, our experience is that the one making a nasty comment is challenging us, the very person we are, and that hurts. But if we are able to take a step back and decouple from our notions of who we are, we can simply let the slur fly by. Because we have no attachment to a rigid idea of who we are, the comment has nowhere to “stick.”
Now, we all have ideas about who we are, and the point here is not to get rid of the conceptualized self. The problem arises when we are so thoroughly fused with our self-concept that the slightest insult causes great suffering. The conceptualized self can be addressed, as can all our thoughts and beliefs, by learning to hold such concepts lightly so we can easily let them go.