Written by: Carl Puleo, LPCA
We see the classic “crazy person” in movies. He’s walking down the street, tattered clothing, hair a mess and his state of cleanliness questionable. All the while he is carrying on a loud and animated conversation with no one but himself. Admit it. If you were to come across this guy you would walk to the other side of the road to avoid getting anywhere near him. And you would think to yourself, “That dude is nuts!”
Wait a minute! Rewind.
When you say to yourself, “That dude is nuts!” you are in effect doing the same thing he is doing: talking to yourself. Guess what? That is normal. Well, maybe the guy on the street has other issues, (see disclaimer below), but talking to oneself is not a sign of being crazy, nuts, or bizarre. In fact, the more you talk to yourself the saner you could possibly be.
Disclaimer: If you are instead talking to other “voices, persons, or things” that no one else can see or hear, you may need to seek help right away. Otherwise proceed.
As you read this sentence I will wager you are actually listening to yourself read it. Am I right? Can you hear your voice in your head as you read these words right this moment? Or perhaps you read out loud.
Here, try this: Close your eyes and count to ten in your head. After you do that, close your eyes and say the alphabet in your head. Were you able to “hear” your voice that time?
That voice is your “Self-Talk Voice.”
We all have a Self-Talk Voice. We carry on conversations with ourselves all the time. For instance, we will discuss what to wear with ourselves: “Hmmm…do I want to wear the blue shirt with UK on the front or do I want to wear my red shirt to go with my shoes?” We will discuss what we want to eat. “I’m hungry. What do I want? Pizza? Nah. Subway? Forget that. I know! How about Taco Bell? That sounds great.” We will even argue with ourselves about things from time to time. “I thought the appointment was supposed to be at 9 this morning. I should have written it down. I know, I know, I forgot“.
This is normal human behavior. We all talk to ourselves. It’s okay. You are not crazy. However, the content of some of our self-talk could lead us to feel as though we ARE crazy. Have you ever said anything like the following to yourself:
I’m such an idiot!
I wish I was dead.
I’m so stupid.
He hates me.
Why do I have to be this way?
I can’t do anything right.
I might as well give up.
She thinks I’m a loser.
This is called Negative Self-Talk. When you talk to yourself like this it is only going to lead to one thing: Unhealthy Negative Feelings. (Yes, there are Healthy Negative Feelings, but that is a topic for another time). Unhealthy Negative Feelings lead to poor self-esteem, relationship issues, work struggles and a whole host of other problems. If your life is full of difficulties, problems, and struggles I can almost guarantee that you are spending most of your Self-Talk beating up on yourself, complaining about others, or griping about the conditions you live in. Negative Self-Talk will lead to poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and/or anger.
So if you no longer want to suffer from poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and/or anger, here is what you must do:
Stop your Negative Self-Talk and begin to replace it with Reasonable Self-Talk. Reasonable Self-Talk is more positive and based on reality and common sense. Seems simple, right? Simple yes, easy, not so much. We develop a pattern of self-talk that becomes automatic over time. Just like any habit, we grow used to talking to ourselves in this way. We become an expert in the art of Negative Self-Talk in the same way we become practiced in anything else that we learn how to do such as riding a bicycle, driving a car, or cooking a meal. We become so practiced in these sorts of activities that we can do them without putting much thought or effort into it.
The same thing can be said about our Negative Self-Talk. We become so practiced in talking to ourselves in this way that it feels almost natural. Breaking this habit, like any other habit, takes a tremendous amount of self-determination and self-will. Although it is not impossible to learn to do this on your own, seeing a counselor can help you do it faster and more effectively.
So now you know: It is okay to talk to yourself. However, it is what you say to yourself that will determine whether or not you are happy, satisfied, and content with your life. Practicing Negative Self-Talk leads to Unhealthy Negative Feelings, which in turn lead to poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and/or anger. To defeat these things you will have to change your Negative Self-Talk to Reasonable Self-Talk.
Stay tuned. In another article I will offer you some self-help suggestions on getting started overcoming Negative Self-Talk.