What is Self-Distancing?

Self-distancing, also known as psychological distancing, refers to a psychological technique that involves taking a step back from a situation or experience and viewing it from a more objective and detached perspective.
Think, “Whoa, I’ve been ruminating for a while. Let me step back for a moment and size up my thoughts and experiences.” It’s a cognitive strategy that can help individuals gain clarity, regulate emotions, and make better decisions.

When practicing self-distancing, we mentally distance ourselves from our immediate thoughts and emotions. This shift in perspective allows us to see the situation from a more neutral and less emotionally charged standpoint. It involves temporarily setting aside personal biases, assumptions, and subjective interpretations.

By adopting a self-distanced perspective, we can:

  1. Gain objectivity: Self-distancing helps us detach from our own subjective experiences and gain a more objective understanding of the situation. It allows us to see different viewpoints, consider alternative explanations, and avoid getting caught up in biased thinking.
  2. Manage emotions: When faced with intense emotions or stressful situations, self-distancing can provide emotional regulation. By stepping back and observing our emotions from a distance, we can reduce reactivity and gain a calmer and more rational outlook.
  3. Make better decisions: By adopting a self-distanced perspective, we can make more rational and thoughtful decisions. We can evaluate the situation more objectively, consider long-term consequences, and avoid impulsive or emotionally driven choices.
  4. Enhance self-reflection: Self-distancing encourages self-reflection and self-awareness. It allows us to examine their thoughts, beliefs, and reactions in a more introspective and constructive manner. This introspection can lead to personal growth, increased self-understanding, and improved problem-solving skills.

The practice of self-distancing can be applied to various aspects of life, including personal relationships, work-related challenges, and decision-making processes. It is a tool that empowers us to step outside of our immediate subjective experiences and gain a broader perspective, which can ultimately contribute to our psychological well-being and resilience.

Self-Distancing Exercise

Take a breather for a minute.

This simple exercise will help you see your problems more clearly, while also reducing their stress response and negative emotions. Notice, as well, how zooming out allows us to separate from our reactionary tendencies of self-interest into a perspective that is more creative and considerate of others.

  1. Think about an emotional problem or dilemma you’re currently wrapped in.
  2. Describe this problem as if it were happening to someone else. Or literally just use your name instead of “I” or “me.” You can write it down or do this in your head.
  3. Now, with this 3rd person perspective, put this problem into the context of one week from now. What will its impact be on this character’s life? Will they remember it? Did they learn from it? Do the same again, but for one month, one year, and even 10 years.
  4. Repeat the first 3 steps, but this time look at the story from the eyes of a benevolent, hypothetical deity. (You don’t need to be religious to undertake this thought exercise. Consider your imaginary character, and each of the others, as equally worthy of love and respect.)

It almost always helps to zoom out. Ask yourself as often as you can: What’s the wider perspective here? What is the bigger picture? What does a bigger picture reveal about what I am considering?

Here are 5 more self-distancing exercises

  1. Guided Visualization: Close your eyes and imagine yourself stepping out of your body and observing yourself from a distance. Visualize yourself in a situation that is causing you stress or anxiety. Observe your actions, facial expressions, and body language from this detached perspective.
  2. Change your linguistic perspective. Instead of using the first-person pronoun “I,” try using the second-person pronoun “you” or your own name when you talk to yourself. This can help you to create a sense of psychological distance from the situation.
  3. Think about the event from a different person’s perspective. How might someone else view the situation? This can help you to see the event from a more neutral stance.
  4. Reframe the event in a humorous way. Sometimes, humor can help us to distance ourselves from our emotions and see the situation in a new light.
  5. Think about the event from a point of view in the future. Imagine yourself looking back on the event (you can use the 10-10-10 technique here). How will you feel about it after some time has passed? This can help you scale the event, zooming out and seeing it in a clearer light.

More tips for practicing self-distancing:

  • Find a quiet place where you can relax and focus.
  • Take a few deep breaths to calm your body and mind.
  • Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the situation.
  • Use the distancing techniques described above to gain a more objective perspective.
  • Once you have distanced yourself from the situation, open your eyes and reflect on your learning.

Self-distancing can be a helpful tool for managing difficult emotions and making better decisions. By practicing these exercises, you can learn to step back from your emotions and see the situation more rationally.

And it goes much deeper than what you see here. Much like self-distancing’s many related skills for well-being, there is a range of approaches and benefits.

You can learn more about self-distancing here and here.

Related Sections

If self-distancing seems like a technique that could help you grow, you may be interested in some of these sections. Each one contains pages of content with theory, exercises, and resources.