Mandy Kloppers

Self distancing

Self distancing is a brilliant technique when you need to lessen the emotional impact of something. It could be a breakup or the fact that you have lost your job. Whatever the reason for the upsetting emotional experience, self distancing can work wonders.

Self distancing tends to be more effective than emotional avoidance. When we don’t deal with our negative emotions, we don’t allow the natural process of closure to occur. Avoidance keeps the negativity in tact and it can lead to clinical depression or physical health issues.

Human beings are motivated to analyze and understand their emotions and behaviour and this motivation to “ask why” is particularly strong when people experience distress. This is because many people assume that understanding their emotions will improve them.
However, decades of research examining the benefits of “asking why” have produced contradictory findings. On the one hand, when we understand our feelings and behaviour we can prevent the same things happening again or learn how to cope better through analysis. The downside to this though is that it can lead to increased rumination. When we overthink, we can end up feeling anxious and unhappy.

As with everything in life, there is good and bad to self distancing. One of the great things about it though is the idea that you can be slightly removed from the raw emotion. Rather than beig immersed in it, you can be slightly removed.

One way to do this is to imagine you are in the cinema. You’re watching a recent upsetting or negative event in your life playing out on the screen in front of you. With this slightly removed position, you may feel less and be more objective regarding what is going on. Being psychologically flexible is always helpful when you feel intense negative emotions.

Imagine your life playing out like a movie. With less intense emotions you may just be able to see things differently and come to a more healthy and satisfying conclusion. When immersed in the experience, it is much harder to be objective. Events can seem overwhelming and you can end up feeling completely lost and miserable. Being able to see the bigger picture is a brilliant mental strategy to help you feel less intense negative emotions.

Alford and Beck state: “Distancing’ refers to the ability to view one’s own thoughts (or beliefs) as constructions of ‘reality’ rather than as reality itself”

There is a BIG difference. Knowing that reality and our perception of reality is different is a great starting point for coping with the tough times in life.

In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, we teach clients to step back from their thoughts and emotions. When you get accustomed to doing this, you engage your frontal lobe and more rational thinking can occur.

Problem solving is more likely to occur with self distancing.

When we learn to question our perceptions and not accept our intense emotional reactions as the final verdict, we become better at managing our emotions. Try the ‘cinema method’ and see whether this helps you to inject rationality into the mix.

Mandy X