The Neutralizer

Chapter 12 of the book Self-Help Stuff That Works

by Adam Khan

WHAT'S THE FIRST THING you do when you get a flat tire or when you burn your dinner or when one of your kids gets an F? When something goes wrong, you say something - to yourself or to someone else. If you're upset, you think or say emotionally loaded expressions, and those expressions intensify your upsetting feelings.

When you find yourself thinking or saying a thought like "This is terrible," you can change it to a less emotional description - for example, "This is inconvenient." Notice how different the two statements are, emotionally speaking. Try saying each statement to yourself and check how different they feel.

It seems like a simple change to make, and it is. But it can change a setback from a catastrophe to just annoying, at least in your experience.

The emotionally loaded comment doesn't help you. It may even hinder you from dealing with the situation rationally. The emotionally neutral statement "This is inconvenient," leads to an emotionally neutral response - in other words, a reasonable, practical response.

Try to become emotionally neutral when an emotionally charged response is counterproductive. Notice what you're thinking and try to make the same comment as a bland, computerlike description of the situation rather than a comment charged with emotion.

  • Instead of "I hate her," say "What she did interfered with my personal goals."
  • Rather than "Oh this is just great!" said with a bitter tone of voice, try something like "This isn't very good," said in an emotionless monotone.
  • Change "#@*!#*#!!" to "I would have preferred it turned out differently."
  • When you're speaking to someone, your neutrality can help prevent the other person from getting upset, and it'll keep your own arousal to a minimum.
  • Instead of complaining to your spouse "I am sick to death of car problems," try something like "Maybe it's time to get another car."
  • Instead of yelling at your teenage son "I've had it up to here with you," how about saying this in an emotionally neutral tone of voice: "I've told you twice not to do that. Next time you do it, I will take away your TV for a week."


NEUTRALIZE THE NEGATIVE. It's a simple technique, but with practice it can level out some of the downturns in this roller-coaster ride we call life without in any way interfering with the upturns.

Describe upsetting situations to yourself in emotionally neutral words.

Self-Help Stuff That Works makes an excellent gift. It is a classy hardbound with a sewn binding. You can now order it from any of twelve online bookstores. These are the most popular:

You can give other people good advice, and it really is good. If they would heed your advice, they would be better off. Find out how to benefit from your own advice.
A Wiser Adviser

If worry is a problem for you, or even if you would like to simply worry less even though you don't worry that much, you might like to read this:
The Ocelot Blues

Learn how to prevent yourself from falling into the common traps we are all prone to because of the structure of the human brain:
Thoughtical Illusions

next: Stress Control

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, October 22). The Neutralizer, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: March 31, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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