What is Psychological Distancing? Four Helpful Techniques - Deepstash
What is Psychological Distancing? Four Helpful Techniques

What is Psychological Distancing? Four Helpful Techniques


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What is Psychological Distancing? Four Helpful Techniques

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Creating Psychological Distance

Many of us have been in a situation where our emotions prevent us from responding appropriately and seeing the big picture. For example, in cases where we feel extreme anger, stress, anxiety, and sadness.

The best way to handle these emotionally charged situations is to step away to create psychological distance between you and the situation.


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  • Time: We think differently about events that are far in the future, compared to activities in the near future. For events in the distant future, we use abstract terms that lack concrete action.
  • Space: We use abstract terms to describe events within a physically-near space than events that happen in a space further away.
  • Social distance: When we describe someone that is different to us, we use abstract qualities (them and us).
  • Hypothetically: We use abstract words and terms to describe events that may not happen compared to events that are more likely to happen.


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Executive functioning is the set of abilities and behaviors that is controlled by the frontal lobe, including:

  • Goal-directed and planning behaviours, such as deciding how to get dressed.
  • Inhibiting responses such as waiting your turn.
  • Monitoring your behavior and correcting mistakes.
  • Changing your behavior in response to a change in the environment.

Executive functioning helps you to regulate your emotions better, which gives rise to psychological distancing.


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The executive functioning also allows us to perform the following processes important for psychological distancing.

  • Shifting: The ability to redirect our attention to another aspect of a problem, or from one item to another.
  • Response inhibition: The ability to restrain our emotional response.
  • Updating: The ability to 'update' the information we are using after shifting our attention and inhibiting our initial response.

The act of psychological distancing is mostly atheoretical, meaning very little research describes how psychological distancing as a tool develops and functions in humans.


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  • Self distancing allows us to gain perspective. By creating space, we can reframe the situation in more abstract terms.
  • In turn, it will enable us to respond appropriately. Our response is then not directed towards the exact event, but instead takes into account the greater context.
  • A bonus in creating psychological distancing that that we can now ignore some of the boundaries that were limiting our solutions and find a creative solution instead.


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In an emotionally charged situation, for example, an argument, take a break for 15 minutes or physically leave the space, such as taking a walk.

By stepping out of the situation, you can disrupt the immediate intention and reframe the situation.


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In an emotionally charged situation, try to imagine watching yourself from a distance. Ask yourself, "what you would think of someone else's behavior is you saw them in the same situation?"

By changing the focus to a third-person view, you can stop some of the immediate reactions and reconsider your behavior.


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When you find yourself in an emotionally charged situation or that your behavior is not helpful, such as procrastinating, imagine yourself in the future looking back and observing your current behavior.

This allows you to look at the current event and its consequences in a broader context. If you procrastinate now, you'll have more work later. By making a snide remark now, you may have a weakened relationship later. By spending your money now, you are unable to save it for a long-term goal.


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