Dr's Casebook: Giving yourself a good talking to can help lower an emotion

Have you heard the old saying, “Give yourself a good talking-to”?

Saturday, 6th November 2021, 4:45 pm
Give yourself a good taking to. Photo: Getty Images

Well, self-talk can help to lower an emotion, whether that is anger, feeling stressed or anxious.

Talking to yourself in the third person seems to be particularly effective, because it gives you a little distance from the emotion and allows more self-control.

A study from the University of Michigan looked at the effect of talking to yourself, when using both first person and third person self-talk.

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For example, first person self-talk would be saying to oneself, “Why am I feeling angry or upset?”.

Third person self-talk would be, “Why is he upset, or why is Jack angry?”.

Using third person leads people to think about themselves in a similar way to the way they think about others. That gives you distance and can reduce the impact of the emotion.

Two experiments were done in the study.

In the first, participants were shown images that were either neutral or disturbing. They were asked to react to them using self-talk in both first person and third person, all the while having their brain activity measured with an electroencephalograph, or EEG.

Remarkably, they found that participants’ emotional brain activity decreased very quickly, within one second, when they referred to themselves in the third person.

In the other experiment, they measured participants’ effort-related brain activity.

They found that using third person required no more effort than using first person.

Self-talk is really the inner voice equivalent of a sports announcer commenting on players’ successes or failures during a sport.

The thing is that the players never hear the commentator’s talk, yet you hear your own inner self-talk.

Sometimes the self-talk can be upbeat, which will boost your esteem and help you be more productive. That is called constructive self-talk.

On the other hand, if it is downbeat and critical, it can be destructive self-talk.

First person is good when you have constructive self-talk, because it boosts the positive.

Third person, as the study shows, is better for destructive self-talk, when you are angry, stressed, jealous or anxious, because it distances you from the emotion and minimises


It is worth practising and you may find that it gives you more self-control than you had before.