Psychological Immune Systems – the List

A really important difference I’ve noticed between people is how their “psychological immune systems” work. In other words: people differ substantially in the collection of strategies that their brains use when bad things happen to prevent themselves from becoming too unhappy or too dysfunctional for too long.┬áThis seems like an important part of understanding why some people are happier than others, even in the face of difficult challenges.

Here is my list of the different psychological immune strategies, combinations of which seem to make up people’s overall psychological immune systems.



De-distort – look for distortions or exaggerations in your thinking about the bad thing that are making it seem worse than it is (especially when you’re feeling extreme emotions), and correct them

Painful opposite: fully believe all the thoughts you have about the bad thing even when you are having them in states of extreme emotion

Forecast – look out into the far distant future, and consider how at that point this bad thing that happened will be a distant memory with much less impact on your distant future self than you are experiencing now

Painful opposite: predict that you will never recover from the bad thing

Accept – try to fully and completely accept the exact state of the world right now including that this bad thing has happened, without any resistance at all to it being true

Painful opposite: refuse to accept the reality of the bad thing happening, continually saying things to yourself like “why me?” and “what did I do to deserve this?” and “this isn’t fair”

Strategize – develop a plan for how to reduce the ill effects of the bad thing that happened

Painful opposite: fail to make plans that might improve the situation, for instance because of finding it too stressful to think about



Express – express your emotions about the bad thing, for instance by journaling in a notebook or talking to others about your feelings, which can make you feel better afterwards

Painful opposite: don’t allow yourself to ever express your emotions about the bad thing

Expose – repeatedly expose yourself to the truth that the bad thing has happened over and over again in a controlled and conscious way (e.g. by visualizing it vividly for 10 minutes each day) until your anxiety system burns out on the stimulus and it stops seeming so upsetting

Painful opposite: whenever you start to face the reality of the bad thing, try to force yourself not to think about it out of fear that you can’t handle the truth about it

Intensify – set aside specific times to fully experience your negative emotions at maximal intensity, by allowing your mind to fully face the badness of the thing that happened

Painful opposite: view having strong emotions about the bad thing as being bad itself, or never allow yourself to fully experience your emotions by doing some numbing activity (like taking drugs or drinking alcohol or playing video games) when the emotions start to come on strong



Distract – engage in activities that distracts you from the bad thing, such as by throwing yourself into your work or doing something highly stimulating (like going on an adventurous trip)

Painful opposite: let thoughts of the bad thing to interrupt whatever you are doing

Comfort – use pleasurable activities or activities with a large comfort component to help you feel less bad (e.g. cuddling your dog)

Painful opposite: stop doing activities that make you feel comfortable and good because they feel incongruent with the bad thing that happened

Redirect – redirect your efforts to doing things that are truly valuable to you and throw yourself into work or projects that you truly care about, using this bad thing as a reminder to focus on what’s important rather than more trivial or superficial things

Painful opposite: stop doing the things that you truly value because you now say “what’s the point?” or because you’ve replaced these with things that are more immediately distracting like binge watching television

Energize – do an activity that energizes you or that sharply shifts your mood upward, such as intense exercise or something that you find exhilarating

Painful opposite: de-energize yourself by lying around without doing much of anything



Reminisce – remind yourself of the wonderful parts about the thing that is now lost while feeling gratitude that you got to have those experiences and had them for as long as you did

Painful opposite: remind yourself of all the good parts that are lost and reflect on how you won’t have access to them ever again

Optimism – adopt the viewpoint that things will get better, and focus on those thoughts about how it will improve rather than on the bad thing itself

Painful opposite: view this bad thing as evidence that things will continually go bad in the future, and that even worse things are about to occur

Gratitude: become even more grateful for the things you do have still, now that something bad has happened, by reminding yourself that those things you still have are precious and won’t last forever

Painful opposite: focus on the things you no longer have because of the bad thing

Self-compassion – empathize with yourself and be tender and understanding with yourself about the difficult situation you are going through, treating yourself like a dear friend going through a tough time

Painful opposite: blame yourself for the bad thing or for feeling so bad about the bad thing

Reconnect – use this bad thing that happened as a catalyst to deepen your connections with those around you (especially others that were impacted by it), relying on each other as sources of strength and comfort

Painful opposite: close yourself off from those around you on the grounds that they can’t understand what you are going through or because you don’t want to seem weak

Empowerment – view yourself as being strong and therefore able to get through great difficulties like this one, even if they are very painful

Painful opposite: view yourself as being weak, and incapable of making it through great difficulties like this one



Silver lining: look for a good thing that comes out of the bad, so that despite the bad thing happening, you see some good in it, which you can then focus on.

Painful opposite: focus on the worst parts of the bad thing.

Recalibrate: compare the bad thing with something worse that could have happened (or that has happened in the past), so that relative to that worse scenario it doesn’t seem that bad

Painful opposite: compare it with much better alternatives that could have happened

Minimize – work to convince yourself that the bad thing wasn’t actually that bad

Painful opposite: work to convince yourself that the bad thing was even worse than you originally thought

Trial – reframe the bad thing as a challenge or trial you must get through that will ultimately make you a better or stronger person, or that will cause personal growth

Painful opposite: view the bad thing as something that has made you permanently worse or permanently weaker

Compare – compare the bad thing that happened to you to the much worse things that are constantly happening to people you know or people around the world so that you view your bad thing as being less bad

Painful opposite: compare the bad thing with the good things that happen to people you know or people throughout the world all the time

Meaning – try to find a deeper significance or meaning in the bad thing happening, such as it being destined to happen for an important purpose, or it being part of an important overarching plan

Painful opposite: view this bad thing happening as a sign that the world or fate is against you or out to get you

Diffuse – view your thoughts as merely thoughts, nothing more, watching them pass by impartially without being “inside” of them

Painful opposite: view your thoughts as the unpleasant truth about reality

Equanimity – try to view the experience without any craving (for it to be different) and without any aversion (to the way that things are), see the event as just that which is

Painful opposite: ruminate on your cravings for things to be different and your aversion to the way things are

Laugh – try to view the bad experiences in a humorous light, even if a darkly humorous or absurdist one

Painful opposite: take your experiences incredibly seriously and get angry if someone finds humor in them


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