Illeism describes the act of using the third person when talking about oneself.
We almost always use proper names when referring to or thinking about other people so if we use our name when thinking about ourselves (instead of framing our thoughts around the ‘I’ pronoun) or use the ‘he’ or ‘she’ third person pronoun, we can think about a problem or situation in a more detached, calm and controlled manner.
Moser et al (2017) found “third-person self-talk leads people to think about the self similar to how they think about others, which provides them with the psychological distance needed to facilitate self control.
In one experiment, at Moser’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, participants viewed neutral and disturbing images and reacted to the images in both the first and third person while their brain activity was monitored by an electroencephalograph. When reacting to the disturbing photos participants’ emotional brain activity decreased within 1 second when they referred to themselves in the third person.
In another experiment, led by psychology professor Ethan Kross, participants reflected on painful experiences from their past using first and third person language while their brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI). Participants displayed less activity in a brain region that is commonly implicated in reflecting on painful emotional experiences when using third person self-talk, suggesting better emotional regulation.
Our self-narrative clearly matters and this has implications for our daily life including what happens in school. Developing a healthy and helpful inner monologue is a relatively effortless form of emotion regulation and self-care so that students and teachers can improve their wellbeing and outlook.