It is always pleasant to read things that support the things you already do. One such article (that I came across via Machines Like Us) is where psychologist Walter Mischel suggests that it is better to distance oneself from bad experiences, like the breakup of a relationship, rather than revisit them.
“Common wisdom suggests that if we thoroughly revisit our negative experiences to try to understand why they happened, we’ll eventually be able to move on. However, new research is showing that some people only get worse by continuing to brood and ruminate,” Mischel said. “Each time they recount the experience to themselves, their friends or their therapist, they only become more depressed. Self-distancing, in contrast, allows them to get a more objective view, without reactivating their pain, and helps them get past the experience.”
In other words, it is better to just cut your losses and move on. This is, in fact, what I have always done. I tend to not want to talk about the unpleasant experiences in my life, a practice that used to be deplored as avoidance rather than coming to grips with the events. But according to Mishcel I just happened to hit on the bets strategy.
This does raise another problem, though. What if a friend of yours wants to talk through some crisis in their life with you? Should you listen to them empathetically (which seems the kind thing to do) or refer them this research and tell them to put a sock on it? Mischel says that the advice you should give your friend is “Take two aspirins and call me in the morning” though he admits that sounds very cold-hearted
Mischel was the person who did the famous marshmallow delayed gratification experiments with children in the 1960s. He appeared last week on The Colbert Report to talk about his book on the subject.
(This clip aired on September 25, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)