It’s only human to recognize your feelings, thoughts, and memories, whether positive or negative. Unfortunately, you may spend an extraordinary amount of time focusing on the negative to understand them better. When you learn how to decenter yourself, it can help you fight negative thoughts.
Do you sometimes ruminate over past hurts and failures, almost like a perpetual loop playing in your brain? Although reflecting and learning from negative experiences can be beneficial, too much can overwhelm you with negative energy. Such energy-zapping thought patterns can link to depression and anxiety.
The Pitfalls of Negativity Bias
Experts still don’t fully understand negativity bias, which is the human habit of focusing on negativity and positivity. Unfortunately, this bias can create skewed opinions and thought patterns that aren’t reality-based. If you allow this to go unchecked, your pessimism can attract more negativity into your life.
• Living with Yourself
Philosophers throughout the ages have pondered the concept of the triunity of humans, being body, mind, and spirit. While you are a single individual, each of your three components has independent characteristics and duties. Yet, they work together to complete you.
While you may have someone who resembles you, there will never be another you in this entire world. You’re wonderfully and uniquely created. So, are your mind and spirit ultimately confined in the recesses of your mortal body, or can they act separately?
It may seem like a metaphysical question, but it does make sense. What did the person who invented the phrase “to think outside of the box” mean? Many psychologists and other experts believe that it’s possible to metaphorically separate yourself from your perceptions and the thoughts and ideas they form.
You probably use this example every day when you mention “I” and “myself” as different entities. For example, you may say, “I’m just beside myself with anger.” How can you learn to be more objective regarding your perceptions and the resulting attitude and reactions?
It takes determination, open-mindedness, and a positive attitude to fight negative thoughts that stand in your way. Seeing yourself as others do can be your first step in the right direction.
Distancing or Decentering to Fight Negative Thoughts
How can you deal with these uncomfortable feelings and memories without creating an emotional storm? Although you can’t change the hurdles of the past, how can you fight negative thoughts and let them go? Many people have learned how to practice decentering to bolster positive thinking, self-esteem, and spiritual healing.
In the past, mental health professionals promoted the idea of “distancing” from the thoughts and feelings that overly stress you. Today, the same concept is called decentering. In other words, you take a deep breath, step back, and become an observer rather than the subject.
The American Psychological Association defines this technique as trying not to concentrate on one aspect of a situation and consider “the big picture” instead. You train yourself to take a step back from yourself and your circumstances. It’s a unique way to gain a new perspective and fight negative thoughts.
How can you not take it personally when someone hurts you or blames you for past failures and shortcomings? Let’s say your boss chose to promote a coworker over you, and you’ve been with the company for much longer than this individual. Understandably, you’d feel slighted by the boss and resentful of your coworker.
If you decenter in this situation, it doesn’t mean that you’re ignoring your anger and hurt feelings. Instead, you decide to back away from the issue and try to empathize with your boss’s decision. As a distanced observer, you may realize that your coworker still had more experience, and that’s why the boss decided to promote them.
How to Fight Negative Thoughts by Decentering Yourself
Not one size fits all when decentering and learning to be objective about yourself and fight negative thoughts. Here are four basic ways that will give you a broader view. Choose one or a combination that works best for you.
1. Use Spatial Distance
Have you ever been overly critical of yourself, and a compassionate friend told you that you were too close to the situation? Unfortunately, it’s human nature for people to be their own worst critics. However, you’ll also tend to be protective of yourself and your achievements because they’re part of you.
Using spatial distancing allows you to decenter and observe. Sometimes, you may discover that the negative feelings may not be warranted. As an observer, you may see angles you couldn’t as the subject, fighting negative emotions.
2. Use Objective Distance to Fight Negative Thoughts
Sometimes when you’re in the middle of a complex problem, you may consider your mentors and others you admire. You may even ask yourself, “what would they do if they were in my shoes?” You can fight negative thoughts as you consider their positive traits and actions.
Instead of being at the center of conflict, you remove yourself to become that objective mentor. Of course, none of this should trivialize your feelings or lose your identity. It’s an empathetic step that gives you a moment of pause to separate what is valid and what is an emotional blindfold.
3. Use Temporary Distance
Suppose you’re in a hurtful or embarrassing situation at this moment. How could you briefly set emotions and subjectivity aside to see it as others do? Another helpful decentering tactic is to be an imaginary time traveler and focus as if the event was in the past or future.
How would you feel and react if this sudden issue were several years ago? Time doesn’t heal wounds, but it often provides different perspectives. If you project the situation into the future, what have you learned from the past that would help you fight negative thoughts today?
Another possible benefit of temporary distance is that you take more time to think before acting. You consider different options and weigh the pros and cons. Such wise decision habits give you more confidence and a positive outcome.
4. Use Hypothetical Distance to Fight Negative Thoughts
In his article published by Psychology Today, Dr. Jim Taylor discusses the philosophical connection between perception and reality. While your perception may be a reality in your mind, it doesn’t make it so. Per Dr. Taylor, how you perceive things will often determine how you process, remember and act upon reality.