An Effective Way to Process Negative Events

Negative events can be anything from receiving a critical comment at work to surviving something intense and catastrophic such as a natural disaster. In order to help ourselves process it, it’s important that we practice something called self-distancing, or taking time out to reflect on the facts of what occurred. It may seem to go against our nature, but this means doing so without bringing either our own or anyone else’s opinions into it. When we do, we weaken our reactiveness to it and come into acceptance of it faster.

Below are the four ways in which self-distancing can be effectively practiced:

1. Visualize a third person, fly on the wall, cat, Jesus, etc. in the room observing the conflict and try to see it from their perspective. Or you can think of someone you know who tends to have a high patience level and ask yourself how they’d react to the situation.

2. I statements are usually very effective when expressing emotions but in this case, you actually want to avoid those. In this case, referring to yourself in the first person can be biasing because it means that you’re still attached to your opinions. It will also help you to simply see the situation as an obstacle instead of as a source of anxiety. In this case, it’s essential to refer to everyone, including yourself in the third person (he/him she/her they/them).

3. Write about it and avoid using I statements. Writing about the situation has often been found to be more effective than just sitting there and thinking it through. Those who demonstrated self-distancing also tended to avoid using emotionally-charged words and used more causation such as “why” or “because”.

4. Consider how you’ll feel about the situation in another week, month, year, etc.