By: David Vittoria, LCSW, MCAP, ICADC, Senior Vice President of Clinical Business & Product Development at Carisk Partners

Research1 suggests that it’s beneficial for us to reflect on and process our negative feelings. What happens sometimes though, is that we tend to think a lot about these negative feelings, and we get trapped in a repetitive loop of painful thoughts. The closer we are to something, the more likely we are to think and feel about it. And the more intense the feelings we’re experiencing, the more likely we are to benefit from stepping back and reflecting on how someone else – maybe someone not so closely tied to the negative situation – might experience the adversity we’re facing.

This exercise is designed to help us get a distanced perspective, and help reduce anger, sadness and other negative emotions. Practicing these 4 steps for 5 minutes and repeating the exercise anytime you find yourself ruminating about an adverse event, can help keep emotions in perspective and lessen recurring thoughts.

  1. Take a few moments to bring to mind a difficult experience you are dealing with, perhaps some event in the past that made you sad or angry, for example, or some anxiety or worry you have about the future.
  2. Try to understand your feelings using “you,” “he/she,” and “[your own name]” as much as possible. If your name is David, for example, you would ask yourself, “Why does David feel this way? What are the underlying causes and reasons for her feelings?” If you start to see the event in your mind, try to watch through the eyes of a distanced, third-party observer, rather than through your own eyes.
  3. The goal here is not to avoid or separate from your feelings, but to analyze them from a clearer and more helpful vantage point. Spend three minutes reflecting in this way, writing down your thoughts if you feel so inclined.
  4. Although it may feel unnatural to talk to yourself in the third person, research2 tells us that it can help you confront difficult feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them. Eventually, you might be able to use this kind of self-talk during difficult events as they’re unfolding, such as a stressful task at work or a particularly challenging social situation.

1 Kross, E. & Ayduk, O. (2011). Making meaning out of negative experiences by self-distancing. Current Directions in Psychological Science20, 187-191.

2 Kross, E., Bruehlman-Senecal, E., Park, J., Burson, A., Dougherty, A., Shablack, H., Bremner, R., Moser, J., & Ayduk, O. (2014). Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: How you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106, 304-324

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