I'm trying to find some research - or at least a professional analysis - on the concept of naming your negative self-talk so that you can "take away its power" - that is, separate it from yourself and dismiss it. I've also heard this referred to as "naming your fear."

For example, an actor might name his negative self-talk "the critic" so that he can dismiss those thoughts as being "just the critic running his mouth."

Another example (and the one that I'm specifically curious about) is in software engineering, where there's a lot of talk about "imposture syndrome," which in this context is just a fancy way of describing the common experience of feeling like you're underqualified for the job you're doing. Giving it such a formal name has the added benefit of being "proof" that it's an irrational fear - that is, "Even qualified people are afraid that they're underqualified, so me thinking that I'm underqualified doesn't mean that it's true."

The specific questions that I'm trying to answer are:

  1. Is there a name for this kind of technique?
  2. Have there been any studies done on this technique?
  3. Specifically relating to the "imposture syndrome" example, how is this different from hypochondria? And,
  4. Are there any related concepts that I might want to take a look at?
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This question is way too broad as-is, consider narrowing it down to something manageable. For negative self-talk, look up "rumination". $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Mar 19, 2018 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ 'framing'... it's called framing.. verbally referring to something as something that changes what it 'means' $\endgroup$ Mar 24, 2018 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ I do not believe this is framing as framing is changing an existing context. At the U.S. Open yesterday Serena re-framed her vantage of the unfortunate events of the ending of the championship at the presentation ceremony. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2018 at 10:41
  • $\begingroup$ "Negative self-talk" has a better clinical definition in the word dysthymia. $\endgroup$
    – DJohnson
    Sep 9, 2018 at 17:25

2 Answers 2


What you are talking about is the powerful technique of Compartmentalisation. As highlighted in the Wikipedia link I provided here, normally speaking (emphasis mine)

Compartmentalization is a subconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person's having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves.

Compartmentalization allows these conflicting ideas to co-exist by inhibiting direct or explicit acknowledgement and interaction between separate compartmentalized self states (Leary & Tangney, 2011).

Carolin Showers (1992) described compartmentalisation as

the tendency to organize positive and negative knowledge about the self into separate, uniformly valenced categories (self-aspects). As long as positive self-aspects are activated, access to negative information should be minimized.

however, you can consciously compartmentalise negative thoughts, feelings etc.

With regard to hypochondria in your question, compartmentalisation can be extremely difficult for hypochondriacs, as can they have trouble separating personal health facts from false perceptions of their personal health (see Illness Anxiety Disorder in DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) or Merck Manual, or ICD-10 code F45.21).

There are a lot of concepts directly and indirectly related to compartmentalisation, so that part of your question is too broad to answer fully here. However as a start, you could look at secondary trauma (also called vicarious trauma).

Compartmentalisation is often employed, for example, by people within the emergency services (fire officers, paramedics, police officers, coastguard etc.) in order for them to concentrate on the immediate task whilst temporarily isolating themselves from their emotions. Problems can come later for these people if they do not deal with their compartmentalised emotions afterwards during debriefing or clinical supervision sessions.

When studying primary and secondary trauma in medical emergency personnel, Jane Shakespeare-Finch (2011) described this as

adaptive compartmentalizing of emotion during a scenario in which focus on the patient is paramount.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (5th Edition). Washington, DC.

Leary, M. R., & Tangney, J. P. (Eds.). (2011). Handbook of self and identity. Guilford Press.

Shakespeare-Finch, J. (2011). Primary and secondary trauma in emergency personnel. Traumatology, 17(4), 1-2.
DOI: 10.1177/1534765611431834

Showers, C. (1992). Compartmentalization of positive and negative self-knowledge: Keeping bad apples out of the bunch. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(6), 1036-1049.
DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.62.6.1036


I do not believe compartmentalization is the answer to the original question. The original question is about naming, identifying, not separating which is compartmentalization.

Two people can have exactly the same knowledge and one can compartmentalize and the other cannot. The fallout of that is that one person may have more anxiety than the other as they are not as adept at resolving the cognitive dissonance.

I believe the answer to the original question is “distinguishing” – formalizing, giving identity, objectifying. When something is objectified it can now have be assigned characteristics which allow a decision to be made about it’s framing, compartmentalization, etc.

The feeling of inadequacy, imposter syndrome, is the fallout of not being able to objectify ones role, their subjective being. A plumber is never “really" a plumber In the same way that a pebble stays a pebble until it’s not pebble anymore (perhaps it was crushed into powder).

"Plumber" is the name of their role at the moment (which speaks to the description, and value in self-therapy, of "acting" that was previously mentioned.)

Since that role can always change a person can never actually know who they "really are" because they really are not anyone (any one, any single) person.

As there is no way to objectify oneself to oneself then who a person “really is“ is unknown which can result in anxiety (imposter, fraud).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I see your point @RandyZeitman, and your answer explains part of compartmentalisation. You are distinguishing helpful thoughts from unhelpful thoughts and dealing with them accordingly. I read that the question was asking for a name for the technique of naming and dealing with fears and/or negative self-talk $\endgroup$ Sep 10, 2018 at 7:29

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