Decentering and Mental Health

May 18, 2018

Psychological researchers are turning more attention to understanding how a process they call “decentering” from experience affects mental health.  In a recently-published article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, the authors, Bernstein et. al, propose a way of understanding three inter-related processes in “decentering.”

In their model, when we “decenter”, we first notice our thinking (meta-awareness); we begin to see our thoughts, emotions and sensations less personally (disidentification from internal experiences) and we recognize that we have the capacity and choice to give thinking less attention and energy (reduced reactivity to thought content.)

Why are these researchers curious about decentering?  Because they have begun to see that it is “fundamental to being human” and to speculate that it “may play an important role in mental health.” (Bernstein et al, p. 599).

Syd Banks, when he uncovered the Three Principles of Mind, Thought and Consciousness, jumped the boundaries of time and saw the truth of the way we humans create our experience….and the Bernstein et al. article, and quite a few others like it, suggest that researchers are inching toward catching up to his insight.

Of Mind, Thought and Consciousness, Syd said, “They are the building blocks of all mental behavior…all living creatures, great or small, interpret what they think of life via these three divine gifts.” (The Missing Link, page 26-7.) These principles are, indeed, fundamental to being human!  Syd also said, “The achievement of mental stability and peace of mind is ONE thought away from everyone on earth…IF you can find that one THOUGHT.” (The Missing Link, page 3)

Via the gift of Consciousness, we have the capacity to notice the power of Thought and how we use it to think. How amazing to see this ability to notice thought, to become meta-cognitively aware, as a “gift!” Why a gift?  Because as soon as we notice our thinking and see it less personally (what the researches called “disidentifying”), the doorway opens for us to see it as a tool we use to navigate life and not as who we are.  We can shift rapidly from being angry/anxious/depressed to being a human who has angry/anxious/depressed thoughts and can choose to energize and act on them, or not. When we give thoughts that lead to feeling awful less energy, then a space opens for us to find the one thought that brings a beautiful feeling, the essence of mental health.

Syd Banks called the Three Principles, spiritual gifts.  Why spiritual? Because they are formless, meaning that they are before any tangible form that can be measured.  We can’t see them, but we can know them as we see them take form in all of creation, including what we create via the power and gift of Thought.

I just finished watching a TED talk on resilience by Amit Sood, a scientist-physician and professor at the Mayo Clinic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZIGekgoaz4). Sood’s extensive exploration, research and writing has led him to emphasize that resilience is connected to using the power of our minds to focus on the ideals of compassion, gratitude, acceptance, forgiveness and meaning. To focus on anything requires decentering from all else!

Near the end of his talk, Sood says, “When science meets spirituality, it creates a milieu for transformation. [The importance of focusing on compassion, gratitude, acceptance, forgiveness and meaning]…is timeless wisdom that sages have told us. Science is nothing but the systematic study of spirituality.  Science doesn’t know it, but scientists will know it at some point.”

We should expect that the spiritual principles Syd spoke of will dance sometimes subtly and sometimes quite unambiguously in psychological research.  The growing focus on the role of decentering in mental health is but one example of this.

Bernstein, A., Hadash, Y., Lichtash, Y., Tanay, G., Shepherd, K. and Fresco, D. (2015). Decentering and Related Constructs: A Critical Review and Metacognitive Processes Model. Perspectives on Psychological Science; 10 (5): 599-617. Doi: 10.1177/1745691615594577