Have you ever heard someone refer to themselves in the third person? It might sound odd, but it’s not uncommon. People often use this linguistic device to distance themselves from their actions or to create a sense of detachment.
But why do people talk about themselves like they’re somebody else? Is it a sign of psychological disturbance or just a linguistic quirk? In this article, we’ll explore the various reasons why people use this speech pattern and the psychology behind it. So, buckle up and let’s dive in!
What is Third-Person Self-Reference?
Before we delve into the reasons why people use third-person self-reference, let’s define what it is. This speech pattern occurs when a person speaks about themselves in the third person as if they were another person or object.
For example, instead of saying, “I am feeling sad,” someone might say, “John is feeling sad.” Alternatively, a person might say, “This author thinks that writing is difficult” instead of “I find writing difficult.”
While it might sound strange to some people, third-person self-reference is a common linguistic device used by many individuals for various reasons.
Psychological Reasons Behind Third-Person Self-Reference
Creating a Sense of Detachment
When people use third-person self-reference, they can create a psychological distance between themselves and their actions. This separation can help them view their experiences more objectively and make more informed decisions.
For example, if someone made a mistake at work, they might say, “Jane made the mistake” instead of “I made a mistake.” By using this language, Jane separates herself from the action, making it easier to analyze the situation and learn from it.
Third-person self-reference can be a coping mechanism to deal with stress and anxiety. Talking about oneself in the third person shifts the focus away from the individual and makes the situation less personal.
For example, an athlete might use third-person self-reference to manage their nerves before a game. Instead of saying, “I’m nervous about this game,” they might say, “John needs to focus on the game plan.”
In some cases, third-person self-reference can be a way to build self-confidence. By speaking positively about oneself in the third person, a person can create a sense of empowerment and motivation.
For example, a student might say, “Lisa is smart and capable of acing this exam,” instead of “I hope I can do well on this test.” By using this language, Lisa reassures herself of her abilities and takes control of the situation.
The Role of Culture in Third-Person Self-Reference
The use of third-person self-reference is not universal and can vary significantly across cultures. In some cultures, using the third person is seen as a sign of humility, respect, or formality.
For example, in Japan, it’s common to refer to oneself in the third person in some social situations, like business meetings or job interviews. Referring to oneself in the third person allows the speaker to maintain a sense of politeness and respect.
On the other hand, in Western cultures, the use of third-person self-reference is often seen as unusual and can be interpreted as a sign of arrogance or mental instability.
The Relationship Between Third-Person Self-Reference and Mental Health
Third-person self-reference is not always a benign linguistic quirk. In some cases, it can be a sign of underlying mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder.
Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder characterized by abnormal perceptions, emotions, and behaviors. People with schizophrenia might use third-person self-reference as a way to dissociate from their thoughts or create a sense of detachment from reality.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
Dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder, is a mental health condition characterized by the presence of two or more distinct personalities or identities. People with this disorder might use third-person self-reference to refer to their alternate identities as separate individuals.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder is a personality disorder characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration. People with this disorder might use third-person self-reference as a way to distance themselves from their flaws or project a perfect image of themselves.
The Bottom Line
Third-person self-reference might seem odd and uncomfortable to some people, but it’s a common linguistic device used by many individuals for various reasons. People use it to create a sense of detachment, cope with anxiety, boost confidence, or show respect in some cultures.
However, in some cases, third-person self-reference can be a sign of underlying mental health issues that require professional attention. If you or someone you know is struggling with psychological issues, seek help from a mental health professional.
Common Questions and Answers
- Q: Is using the third person to refer to oneself common?
- A: Yes, many people use third-person self-reference in various situations.
- Q: Can using the third person to refer to oneself be a sign of mental illness?
- A: In some cases, third-person self-reference can be a symptom of underlying mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder.
- Q: Is third-person self-reference understood in all cultures?
- A: No, the use of third-person self-reference can vary significantly across cultures and can be interpreted differently.
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- Groomes, D. A., & Ohtsubo, Y. (2019). Humility as expressed through language: Thoughts about the self and others in English and Japanese. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 50(6), 723-742.
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