The Secret to Fighting Negative Thoughts

How to 'decenter.'

1/28/2022 11:32:00 AM

How to take a step back from your thoughts and let go of the ones that are hurting you

How to 'decenter.'

Decentering means being able to observe one's own thoughts or feelings.Once a person can observe their own thoughts and feelings, they can choose how to respond to whatever comes up in their mind.Decentering plays a large role in cognitive therapy and in mindfulness meditation practice.

Source: Akshay Gupta / PixahiveIt’s altogether too easy to criticize yourself, isn’t it? If you make a mistake, arrive late, say something you shouldn’t—your next thought might easily be something like “I’m so stupid,” or “I always do this.” But have you ever caught yourself having these thoughts, and then taken a moment to ask yourself why you’re having them? If you’ve done this—if you’ve taken a mental step back from your immediate experience—then you’ve learned the trick of decentering. It means being able to observe your own thoughts and feelings; it’s the act of pushing back from how you feel to gain a tiny bit of distance, inside your mind.

Read more: Psychology Today »

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Key points Decentering means being able to observe one's own thoughts or feelings. Once a person can observe their own thoughts and feelings, they can choose how to respond to whatever comes up in their mind. Decentering plays a large role in cognitive therapy and in mindfulness meditation practice. Source: Akshay Gupta / Pixahive It’s altogether too easy to criticize yourself, isn’t it? If you make a mistake, arrive late, say something you shouldn’t—your next thought might easily be something like “I’m so stupid,” or “I always do this.” But have you ever caught yourself having these thoughts, and then taken a moment to ask yourself why you’re having them? If you’ve done this—if you’ve taken a mental step back from your immediate experience—then you’ve learned the trick of decentering. It means being able to observe your own thoughts and feelings; it’s the act of pushing back from how you feel to gain a tiny bit of distance, inside your mind. Decentering has been fairly well studied in the world of experimental psychology. A 2015 review article in Perspectives on Psychological Science , written by Bernstein et al., defines decentering as “the capacity to shift experiential perspective… from within one’s subjective experience onto that experience.” Or, if you like, when you think to yourself “I mess up everything I do,” instead of fully believing that thought and accepting it as the truth of your reality, you merely recognize that you’ve had a thought about messing up everything you do. You don’t need to accept that thought, or respond to it, or act as though it is true in any way. Decentering may look and feel different to different people, but according to the 2015 review, three qualities are present in all decentering-related concepts: awareness of awareness (called “meta-awareness”), reduced identification with one’s internal experience, and moderated reactivity to one’s thoughts. Nina Josefowitz, Ph.D.—the author of CBT Made Simple —wrote in a 2021 blog post that decentering means “recognizing that thoughts are mental events that are not necessarily true and that you don’t have to react to or believe.” And as Jay Winner, M.D., said in Psychology Today , learning that we don’t have to believe our own thoughts—that they might be subjective, inaccurate, or even unhealthy—lies at the heart of much of cognitive