Back in the old days, the concept of “self-talk” and “inner monologue” were not widely accepted by the therapeutic community. They just didn’t admit that everyone talks to themselves! So a patient would innocently say things to a psychiatrist like, “I told myself, ‘Don’t do that, you’ll get in trouble,’ but I did’t listen.”
Unbeknownst to the patient, this would set off a a firestorm of activity inside the psychiatrist’s mind. “Talking to himself? That’s an auditory hallucination, isn’t it? No, it isn’t. Yes, it is! That’s means he’s schizophrenic. No, it doesn’t. Yes, it does! Good thing I don’t do that. Yes, I do. No, I don’t! Shut up!”
Fortunately, all the professionals have realized that self-talk is perfectly normal, whether it’s done internally or out loud. Everybody does it. Whew! And in many cases it’s helpful, too. People with a habit of saying, “Let’s see…” while they take in the world around them before deciding what to do next are using the phrase to focus themselves, and that’s good.
Where things go wrong is when one’s self-talk is unhelpful. Lots of people have a voice inside that criticizes them all the time. We grow up and we move out on our own, independent at last, and yet we carry around an internalized nagging voice with us, the verbal equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard. Eww!
Fortunately, this can be fixed easily enough. It’s your mind, after all. While many of our internalized voices may sound like other people, we’re the ones doing the talking, so it’s all us, really.
I think that hypnosis gives particularly good results, but here are some things you can try on your own, right now. It’s all about realizing that, since it’s happening in your mind, you can assert some control, and little changes can make a huge difference.
- Ignore the words and listen to the sound of the voice. Does it have the kind of tone that’s pleasant to listen to? Try changing the voice to match someone you have trouble taking seriously, such as Daffy Duck. Now go ahead and listen to the words again.
- Now think of a particularly sexy voice (many people think of Sean Connery or Marilyn Monroe), and change the voice to say the same things it always says, but in an over-the-top sexy voice that makes it a pleasure to listen to. I don’t know about you, but if Marilyn Monroe breathes, “You’re a horrible, horrible man,” I feel pretty good!
- Close your eyes and see where the voice seems to come from. Sometimes its apparent source is kinda spooky. I doubt many people like having a nagging voice coming from behind! Move the voice around and leave it in the spot that feels best.
What we’re doing here is breaking the habit of automatically feeling bad, and giving ourselves choices instead. The unconscious mind is very good at using the best choice that it’s aware of. The problem is that most of our behavior is automatic and unconscious, based on decisions made under stress a long time ago. It’s a quirk of the human mind that such decisions are not reviewed automatically, even when they’re causing harm every day. Fortunately, there are ways of triggering that review.
Once we change the emotional content of the voice, the words tend to follow suit automatically. You can speed this process by lengthening the sentences. For example, “You’ll always be a failure…” can be lengthened by adding “…until I start making better decisions.” By tacking on words like “until” or “unless,” and then adding a statement that points to positive change, the old condemnation becomes something like a goal statement!