Ever found yourself ruminating on past wrongs or boiling with rage because of something someone had just said? It is normal to experience intense or challenging emotions from time to time, especially when dealing with difficult people or a stressful situation. In such situations, it can be useful to know how to regulate your emotions so that you don’t end up acting in an impulsive or destructive manner. Self-regulation incorporates many different tools and techniques, including mindfulness, deep breathing, talking with others, and positive self-talk. The latter, it turns out, is particularly effective for regulating emotions, especially when one speaks to themselves in the third person.
Researchers at the Michigan State University and the University of Michigan recently conducted a couple of experiments to test out the theory above. One experiment asked participants to view negative images and then ask themselves how they were feeling both in first person and third person (i.e. “What am I feeling right now?” versus “What is Jeff feeling right now”?) while the other asked participants to talk about painful experiences from their past using both first person and third person languages. Both experiments found that participants were able to better regulate their emotions when using third person language. Researchers believe that part of the reason why third person self-talk works so well in lowering the intensity of emotions is because it allows individuals to psychologically distance themselves from the situation and also think about themselves in a way that is similar to how they think about others. It may therefore grant individuals some objectivity in an otherwise emotionally tense situation, helping them act in a more thoughtful manner.
The best thing about third person self-talk is that it is really easy to do and apply in your daily life. So, the next time you find yourself feeling anxious, angry, or stressed, try speaking to yourself in the third person and see if it makes any difference.
“Talking to yourself in the third person can help you control stressful emotions” (2017). Retrieved from www.msutoday.msu.edu.