The Benefits of Distanced Self-Talk

How do you talk to yourself? According to science, promoting an internal dialogue in the second or third person will allow you to regulate the emotional load, reduce any anxiety, and see reality with a greater perspective.
The Benefits of Distanced Self-Talk

Written by Valeria Sabater

Last update: 26 October, 2022

“I’m clumsy”, “I’m sure if I try I’ll fail again and make a fool of myself”, “Noone will ever like me when I look the way I do”. We all have a bad habit of talking to ourselves as if we were strangers who we detest. In fact, an internal and destructive monologue is, in many cases, the trigger for psychological discomfort.

At times, you’re like the cruel voice of self-awareness, and at others like the worst coach in the world, the one who, instead of giving you tools and pep talks, devalues and punishes you. This voice combines conscious thoughts with irrational beliefs and unconscious prejudices. Unfortunately, as humans, we have an undeniable tendency toward self-criticism.

Radical statements like “I’m worthless” slowly build a universe of depression. While it’s not possible to pause your inner voice, there are strategies that allow you to address yourself in a more respectful way. Indeed, distanced self-talk helps you reduce the severe and exhausting volume of these inner dialogues.

Distanced self-talk is a strategy that favors self-control and encourages well-being. In fact, often, there’s nothing better than seeing reality with a little more perspective and distance.

Distanced self-talk allows us to filter what worries us from a more rational and less emotional point of view.

woman applying distanced internal dialogue
When you experience anxiety, speaking to yourself in the third person can help.

Distanced self-talk

The language you use to talk to yourself determines, in many cases, your self-image. At the same time, you can’t ignore the influence that the environment usually has. For example, the way your parents addressed you often shapes the way you give voice to your internal dialogues.

The problem with such psychological talk is that it rarely reflects genuine reality. You devalue yourself and move forward with the most adverse futures, creating, with your inner dialogues, mental movies that simply aren’t true. However, these destructive and critical reasonings end up overwhelming you with their negativity to the point of increasing your levels of anxiety and discomfort.

The good news is that you can change this psychological dynamic. One way to achieve it is to get used to using distanced self-talk. Gainsburg & Kross (2020) conducted a study in which they highlighted that by applying a certain psychological separation, we’re able to develop more rational and less emotional thoughts about what happens to us.

Talking to yourself in the second or third person allows you to reduce the emotional reactivity that accompanies anxiety.

Psychological distance

The University of Michigan (USA) conducted a study that discovered the appropriateness of applying distanced self-talk to deal with negative day-to-day experiences. Imagine a person who’s just been rejected in the selection process for a job. If they’ve been unemployed for several months, their internal dialogue is probably dominated by helplessness and blockage.

Ideas such as “Nobody is ever going to give me a new opportunity” or “I’m never going to work again” may appear in their mind. However, if they were given tools to use distanced self-talk, their perception might change. Indeed, scientific research has demonstrated that this resource activates the rational part of the brain.

If this same person were to develop a voice characterized by psychological separation, their perspective would be different. They’d adopt a broader perspective, less focused on failure and negativity. They might say “Okay, Michael, you haven’t been hired for this job but remember, above all, that you’re a competent and experienced person. Sooner or later you’ll be offered a suitable job”.

In essence, what distanced self-talk achieves is to reflect on what stresses us from a more external point of view, one that’s separated from the emotional.

You must integrate into your mental record the importance of editing or reframing your internal dialogues. Cutting out negativities, prejudices, and self-devaluation will allow you to have greater control over your life and gain psychological well-being.

Woman applying the Distanced Internal Dialogue
Developing distanced self-talk allows you to reduce your cognitive biases and approaches that reinforce anxiety and depression.

How to develop a rational and healthy kind of self- talk

It’s okay to be self-critical at times, but you mustn’t trample on your identity and worth as if you were your own worst enemy. However, reducing your critical inner voice with destructive tendencies is no easy task. In fact, you can’t turn it off completely, but you can transform it and adopt a more compassionate and less aggressive way of speaking to yourself.

You need to develop distanced self-talk. Here’s how you do it.

1. Address yourself by name

To achieve a true psychological distance, try to dispense with personal pronouns such as I or my. Doing so will reduce your volume of anxiety and give you some emotional distance. For instance, instead of telling yourself, “I should trust myself more”, it’ll be more useful to use the phrase “Daniel, you should trust yourself more”.

2. Talk to yourself as if you were your coach

Your critical voice shouldn’t torture, attack, or devalue the person you are. Try and assume the attitude of a coach, a person who has a certain control over the situation and who wants to help you. This will come in handy when you’re gripped by hopelessness and negativity.

This coach must question every irrational and adverse thought you have. Phrases like: “Laura, do you really think that no one is ever going to like you? What evidence do you have that this is going to be the case? Don’t you already have friends and people who love you for who you are?”

3. Look in the mirror and be compassionate with the person you see

Distanced self-talk can be particularly useful if you use the third person. Try standing in front of a mirror and speaking to yourself with respect, appreciation, and compassion, as if you were addressing someone you love deeply.

“Michael is someone who must trust more in his potential. He showed his worth in the past. From now on, things are going to change because he’s going to work on his dreams with greater security and self-esteem. Michael deserves the absolute best”.

It’s important to remember how relevant your inner voice is for promoting your mental health and personal development. In fact, taking care of what you say to yourself is as decisive as taking care of yourself physically. So talk to yourself well and you’ll have a better life. 

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  • Gainsburg, I., Sowden, W.J., Drake, B. et al. Distanced self-talk increases rational self-interest. Sci Rep 12, 511 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-04010-3
  • Orvell, A., Vickers, B. D., Drake, B., Verduyn, P., Ayduk, O., Moser, J., Jonides, J., & Kross, E. (2021). Does distanced self-talk facilitate emotion regulation across a range of emotionally intense experiences? Clinical Psychological Science, 9(1), 68–78. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702620951539