Cognitive fusion, experiential avoidance, and their interactive effect: Examining assocaitions with thwarted belongingness and perceived burdersomeness

Jacqueline E. Hapenny, Thomas A. Fergus

Within the interpersonal theory of suicide (Joiner, 2005; Van Orden et al., 2010), the experience of thwarted belongingness (akin to, “I am alone”) and perceived burdensomeness (akin to, “I am a burden”) is considered necessary for suicidal desire. Researchers describe suicide as being the most extreme form of experiential avoidance. Yet, the relevancy of experiential avoidance and other central processes of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), such as cognitive fusion, to thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness remain unexamined. This study examined the relevancy of experiential avoidance, cognitive fusion, and their interactive effect in relation to thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness among United States community adults (N =352) recruited through the internet. As predicted, experiential avoidance and cognitive fusion interacted in relation to perceived burdensomeness. The pattern of the interaction indicated that experiential avoidance and cognitive fusion both shared a stronger association with perceived burdensomeness at high, relative to low, scores of the other ACT process. The interaction was unaccounted for by demographic variables, hopelessness, or depressive symptoms. Contrary to predictions, the interaction was not found in relation to thwarted belongingness. Results indicate that the aggregate effect of experiential avoidance and cognitive fusion may be relevant to perceived burdensomeness. Conceptual and therapeutic implications are discussed.

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