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Explanations > Behaviors > Coping > Distancing

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



When people perceive a threat, a common approach is to distance themselves from it. The same effect happens when they feel stressed by a current situation. 

People may physically move away from a threat. They may also move away mentally and emotionally. Mental distancing includes thinking less about the subject, for example by simplifying and stereotyping.  Emotional distancing includes loosening bonds and can result in the person caring less.


A person having an argument storms out of the room. (While this has a significant control aspect, it also takes them away from the discomfort of conflict).

A woman whose husband spends a lot of time at work starts to distance herself by finding other interests and is less often at home when he returns.

A person who is stressed at work is absent with illness more often.


Distancing is a form of flight, where we run away from danger. When faced with danger we feel uncomfortable and stressed as we are forced to ready ourselves against the threat. A simple solution is to move away. This gives us time to react should the risk of harm become actual. It also gives time to consider options and give us more control over the situation.

Just thinking about danger or discomfort can be unpleasant, so we may avoid even this. This is one reason why we procrastinate work that seems hard and avoid people we do not like.

So what?

If you find that you are distancing yourself from situations, work, people, etc., look for the stressors and consider other options rather than just distancing. You can of course also use distancing as a better option than fighting, for example avoiding a person you do not like can be an effective strategy for a person prone to angry attacks.

If you find others distancing themselves from you, ask why and then change as appropriate those things that they are avoiding. You can also encourage people to distance themselves from places you do not want them to go by increasing the threat there and get them to go where you want them to go by decreasing threat. This can be done not only with physical places but also mental positions.

See also

Fight-or-Flight Reaction, The Need to Avoid, Avoidance Mechanisms, Avoidant Personality

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