Posted on April 30th, 2019
We all talk to ourselves. Some of us do it out loud, while others do it silently, but self-talk is the rule rather than the exception. Self-talk can be helpful, particularly when it is encouraging or appreciative of our efforts, but it can also be self-critical.
Self-talk begins with our childhood experiences of listening to other people talk to us. In self-talk, we internalize this outer experience, as though someone else is talking to us.
Who is this someone else?
Often the someone else is a parent. It would be lovely if this were a benevolent, caring parent, but more often than not the parent we replicate is a critical parent. The reason for this is simple: the times when our parent was critical were difficult times for us. They could be harsh, scary, sometimes threatening, even physically punitive. We learn to be on guard against the critical parent’s eruptions by internalizing the voice of this parent to warn ourselves.
In this way, we become able to remind ourselves of what to do and what not to do, as though they are speaking to us. ‘Look both ways before you cross the street.’ This is the origin of self-talk. It is a guide to keeping ourselves safe from fear and sometimes punishment.
One tell-tale sign that the voice of our self-talk is a parent’s voice is when it refers to us as ‘you.’ ‘You’d better not forget your raincoat.’ ‘You need to leave by nine o’clock this morning.’ This is the internalized voice of a parent speaking to us. (It’s also true that sometimes self-talk doesn’t appear in the form of talk at all, but rather as an emotional undercurrent, the residue of an internal conversation too quiet for us to overhear.)
Some of us experience ourselves as helpless in the face of often demanding self-talk. Others struggle with it, a struggle which may have no outward signs but which can be very difficult internally, leading to impulsive actions as we try to become independent of its demands, or to depression when the struggle seems too much for us.
There is a way to work through this struggle without losing the benefits of self-talk. It’s a 3-step process which may sound simple but is often challenging to accomplish because of the stickiness of our self-talk habits.
The first step is realizing that the voice we hear is not actually the voice of our parents. Our self-talk is not someone else talking to us, someone we have to answer to. It’s our own imitation of our parent’s voice, it’s ourselves.
The second step is empowering ourselves to be responsible for keeping us safe in life, rather than deferring to a demanding voice we have have to satisfy.
The third step is the reward—switching our self-talk from the ‘you’ voice to the ‘I’ voice. Rather than a critical monologue we are subjected to, our self-talk can become a positive commentator, noticing and supporting the steps we are taking in life. That’s real self-talk!
Posted in Individual Counseling