Does distanced self-talk work with intense emotions and with vulnerable people?
Researchers Orvell et al. (2020) further investigated the effects of self-distancing. They investigated whether distanced self-talk also works with intense emotions and vulnerable people.
Various ways are known to help people to regulate their emotions, such as conscious reframing techniques. A less known technique that is also suitable for this is self-distancing, or distanced self-talk. In this case, people addresses themselves (usually in thoughts) from a third person perspective using their own name (“Tom, why do you feel this way?”). Research has shown that this mode of self-talk helps regulate emotions (see eg Streamer et al., 2017).
Does it also work with intense emotions and vulnerable people?
What is not yet known is whether distanced self-talk works well for regulating emotions in the case of intense negative experiences and with emotionally vulnerable individuals. Orvell et al. (2020) conducted two experiments to find this out. They asked more and less emotionally vulnerable persons to reflect on past and future negative experiences of varying emotional intensity. Some were asked to reflect from the "I-perspective", others from a third person perspective (self-distancing, that is).
They found that distanced self-talk helped regulate emotion when thinking about problems of varying intensity. This applied to thinking about previously experienced negative emotions as well as future (dreaded) negative experiences. These positive effects were also found in people who were more emotionally vulnerable. It is important to understand that the subjects did not avoid thinking about the negative situations in the study (the word distancing might give that impression).
Knowledge about the effects of distanced self-talk is of course useful for mental health professionals and coaches. But each of us can benefit from knowing that distanced self-talk helps to regulate emotions. We all feel bad at times. Then it is useful to know that speaking to yourself from a third person perspective, i.e. by using your own name, helps. Even with intense emotions and also if you are an emotionally vulnerable person.