Self-distancing refers to an individual’s ability to reflect upon personal experiences through the perspective of an outside observer versus a more self-focused point of view. For example, an individual from a self-focused perspective would look at a situation by asking “Why did I act this way?” whereas an individual engaging in self-distancing would reflect upon the same experience by asking “Why did John act this way?” Research suggests that engaging in a more self-distanced perspective leads to greater meaning-making of negative experiences. This is likely because a self-distanced perspective allows individuals to generalize experiences to focus on the bigger picture instead of looking at experiences by recounting details of more personal, negative feelings. Interestingly, people that viewed their negative experiences from a self-distanced perspective reported less distress compared to those that analyzed their feelings from a self-focused point of view. In addition, self-distancing helped these individuals to gain greater insight and closure to make meaning from their negative experiences. Research suggests that a self-distanced perspective helps people in restructuring their negative experiences compared to re-counting them through self-focused reflection. In this regard, self-distancing is likely to serve as a useful tool in helping people to take part in meaning-making after the experience of negative life events.
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Author: Paige Martin, M.A.
Kross, E., & Ayduk, O. (2011). Making meaning out of negative experiences by self-distancing. Current directions in psychological science, 20, 187-191.