Schema Therapy Distancing Techniques

Is your internal dialogue becoming increasingly tyrannical and demanding? Are you struggling to get out of negative and debilitating thought loops? If so, the set of tools we'll suggest here could be really useful.
Schema Therapy Distancing Techniques
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 22 March, 2024

You are what you feel and think. In fact, for better or for worse, every idea, thought, and reflection produced in the fabric of your mind conditions you. Moreover, sometimes, the contamination they generate with their negativity is such that your entire psychological universe suffers and becomes sick.

It’s extremely difficult to make decisions and solve problems if your internal dialogue only sees difficulties in each and every circumstance. It’s impossible to give the best of yourself to those you love when you’re your own worst enemy and you only hear the echoes of insecurity. Indeed, your Self and the quality of it completely determines your well-being.

A figure who’s studied this phenomenon in depth is Ethan Kross. He’s a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan (USA). In his book, Your Internal Dialogue: What Is That Voice in Your Mind? (2022), he provides a really valuable vision. He claims that chaotic and distorted thoughts must be educated. The first step to carrying this out is by distancing ourselves from them a little. Let’s find out how to do it.

“The mind is flexible, if we know how to bend it. If you have a fever, you can take something to bring it down. Likewise, our mind has a psychological immune system: We can use our thoughts to change our thoughts – by adding distance.”

-Ethan Kross-

woman applying distancing techniques
Distancing techniques allow us to ease the burden of negative thoughts in order to better manage them.

Schema therapy

Schema therapy is a model that integrates techniques from the cognitive-behavioral approach, with resources from interpersonal, psychodynamic, and experiential psychology. Jeffrey E. Young developed this therapy in the 1990s. Its objective is to detect and work on the maladaptive thought patterns that cause discomfort and unhealthy behaviors.

Most of us harbor a series of unhelpful thought patterns that develop in childhood or at some point in our lives. These automatic and unconscious reasoning patterns usually integrate, along with distorted ideas, difficult emotions, and certain bodily sensations.

Interstingly, schema therapy was initially developed to treat borderline personality disorder. However, after verifying its effectiveness in treating this condition, it was extended to other mental health problems with good results. In fact, research conducted at the Medical School of Athens and the University of Maastricht, in the Netherlands, highlights its usefulness for treating chronic depression.

There are thoughts that cause us great intrapsychic suffering and that we activate without realizing it.

How schema therapy helps to deal with your negative inner voices

In his book that explains how to understand and manage our internal dialogue, Ethan Kross supports the usefulness of schema therapy. This technique recognizes self-defeating talk. Realizing that they’re there and can be transformed directly mediates your well-being.

According to this model, a negative internal dialogue is usually sponsored by the following five categories.

  • Mismanaging personal boundaries.
  • Prioritizing the needs of others before your own
  • Disconnecting from yourself and your needs.
  • Thinking that you’re doomed to failure and have no control over your reality.
  • Hypervigilance and inhibition. Being extremely aware of all stimuli, anticipating the worst, and being extremely emotionally contained.

Speaking to yourself in the third person is a really effective distancing technique. It helps you take control over your thoughts.

Distancing techniques to deal with your negative dialogue

Distancing techniques in schema therapy aim to promote better control over your internal dialogues. As an example, imagine that you’re suddenly caught in a group of people who are arguing and fighting with each other. They’re talking really loud, are moving around a lot, and you can hardly understand what’s going on.

To find out what’s going on, you choose to get away, to climb up to a position from which to have a better perspective of things. It’s from that distant and elevated position from where you understand the dynamics of the episode.

With the following tools, you can achieve something better. In effect, you’ll understand how to properly manage that internal dialogue that sometimes torments you. It’s worth taking note of.

1. Internal dialogue in the third person

Internal dialogue in the third person allows you to adopt appropriate distances from your mind. Moreover, to assume a position of power. The following kinds of reasoning might serve as orientation for you: «She must act. Right now she thinks they won’t get her in that job interview. But she has to do it and trust herself a little more. She deserves to be brave and take risks. She will not lose anything.

2. Movie screen technique

What are you worried about right now? What phrases is your internal dialogue telling you now? One of the most interesting distancing techniques is the movie screen resource. To carry it out, you must visualize a movie theater and a large screen in the background where your concerns appear in the form of an image.

Look at them from a distance and calm yourself down. Do you think that these anxieties have a basis in reality? Are they useful to you? If you think this isn’t the case, proceed to a new visualization. One in which things appear more realistic and hopeful.

3. Three chairs

Let’s say, that, for a few days your inner voice has been increasingly demanding and voracious. It won’t let up and sanctions everything you do. The three-chair tool seeks to defuse your dysfunctional thoughts through compassionate, skeptical, and realistic dialogue.

To practice it, think of a negative idea that comes to you many times a day. For example, “I’m a failure.” Then, invite your mind to sit on three different chairs:

  • The skeptical chair. What proof do you have that you’re a failure?
  • The realistic chair. Throughout your life, you’ve achieved far too many things to accept this idea.
  • The compassionate chair. Value yourself more. You deserve to achieve what you’re dreaming of.

4. Replacement

Another of the best-known distancing techniques is substitution. When you become stuck in a painful image, in an anchoring thought that doesn’t allow you to move forward, replace it with an opposite image. For example, if you can’t stop thinking about the last argument you had with your partner, think back to a moment when you were really happy.

This internal portrait can give you encouragement and new resources to better face the situation, with a more relaxed mental focus.

5. Escape and refuge

How many times have you got stuck in a thought, negative judgment, or uncomfortable memory and been unable to escape? Possibly many times. The next time you feel like this, try something new. Mental escape consists of freezing an idea or image that causes you discomfort, to move to another that gives you help and support.

Suppose you can’t stop thinking about a mistake you made at work. It’s with you all the time. Stop the scene in your mind, hit pause, and jump to another stage where someone you love and admire is performing. What would that person say to you? Most likely, they’d encourage you and urge you to get over the experience.

Mind with a man inside applying distancing techniques
Sometimes, you have to escape from your mind to get a better perspective on your concerns.


Your internal dialogue is your voiceover. It’s the automatic echo of your mind. It isn’t easy to exercise control over it because, as you well know, it’s articulated by many unconscious processes.

The distancing techniques detailed here can be useful. However, in the event that it’s impossible for you to regulate this negativity and persistent mental wear and tear, don’t hesitate to request specialized assistance. Thinking well is synonymous with living better. Start today.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kross, Ethan (2022) Tu diálogo interno: ¿qué es esa voz de tu mente? Oceáno
  • Malogiannis, I. A., Arntz, A., Spyropoulou, A., Tsartsara, E., Aggeli, A., Karveli, S., Vlavianou, M., Pehlivanidis, A., Papadimitriou, G. N., & Zervas, I. (2014). Schema therapy for patients with chronic depression: a single case series study. Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry45(3), 319–329.
  • Roediger, E., Stevens, B., Brockman, R. (2018) Contextual Schema Therapy. Oakland, CA: Context Press.
  • Taylor, C. D. J., Bee, P., & Haddock, G. (2017). Does schema therapy change schemas and symptoms? A systematic review across mental health disorders. Psychology and psychotherapy90(3), 456–479.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.