Gaining Perspective on Negative Events

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: Variable | Duration: 5 mins
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Time Required

5 minutes. You can repeat this exercise each time you find yourself ruminating on a negative experience.

How to Do It

Take a few moments to bring to mind a difficult experience you are dealing with: some event in the past that made you sad or angry, for example, or some anxiety or worry you have about the future. 

Try to understand your feelings using “you,” “he/she,” and “[your own name]” as much as possible. If your name is Jane, for example, you would ask yourself, “Why does Jane feel this way? What are the underlying causes and reasons for her feelings?” If you begin 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.

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. 

Although it may feel unnatural to talk to yourself in the third person, research suggests 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.

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: Variable | Duration: 5 mins
(4 member ratings)

Why You Should Try It

Research suggests that it can be beneficial to process and reflect on our negative feelings. But when we try to do so, it’s easy to start ruminating—to get caught in the loop of repetitive, painful thoughts. 

Gaining perspective on negative events, or “self-distancing,” is a practice that allows us to view our feelings and experiences from an outsider’s perspective. Sometimes this is accomplished with language—saying “you” or “she” rather than “I”—and other times it’s accomplished by imagining an experience from a distance rather than through our own eyes. 

Studies have shown that taking this more distanced perspective can help reduce anger, sadness, and other negative emotions around a distressing event, as well as minimize recurring thoughts. 

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: Variable | Duration: 5 mins
(4 member ratings)

Evidence That It Works

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. 

Researchers told participants that they would have to engage in a stressful task: either trying to make a good first impression on someone or giving a videotaped speech. Some participants were instructed to reflect on their feelings from a self-distanced perspective (referring to themselves as “you,” “he/she,” or “[their own name]”), while others reflected on their feelings in the usual way (using “I”). 

The self-distanced participants saw the stressful task as more of a positive challenge than a threat, performed better on it (as rated by judges), recovered from their anxiety more quickly, felt less shame about their performance, and ruminated less afterward than the other group. 

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: Variable | Duration: 5 mins
(4 member ratings)

Why It Works

In everyday life, we typically think and talk about ourselves using first-person pronouns like “I” and “me.” Using self-distanced language—like “you” or “he”—means that we’re referring to ourselves the way we usually refer to others. This linguistic shift seems to create a cognitive shift, allowing us to gain perspective on whatever is going on. 

Some studies also suggest that self-distancing encourages us to think in more abstract terms: Rather than focusing on the concrete details and feelings involved in a particular event, we’re more likely to have realizations, generate deeper understanding, and find closure. This allows us to deal with negative feelings constructively, without getting swept up in them. 

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: Variable | Duration: 5 mins
(4 member ratings)


Ozlem Ayduk, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: Variable | Duration: 5 mins
(4 member ratings)

For More

Difficulty: Moderate | Frequency: Variable | Duration: 5 mins
(4 member ratings)

Gaining perspective on negative events can help you become more resilient in the face of difficult emotions. How stressed are you? Take our quiz to find out: 

Completion Status

Comments & Reviews

  1. Zivio!
    February 6, 2019

    I'd saved this exercise many months ago and had the perfect reason to try it today. I was skeptical about it having any value for me and had a bit of difficulty feeling like I was "doing it right." However, just taking the time to try it left me feeling better and lighter! I think the value of this practice comes not from any particular goal or outcome but just by doing it. Sorry of magic.

  2. Cathie Owenby
    Cathie Owenby
    November 28, 2018

    Currently having the negative-negative meta-emotion and I found this article and practiced it. I've found calmness by doing so. Having lived with clinical depression for many years I never thought about meta-emotions and how to deal with them. Thanks for having this wonderful article at the right time for me!

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