Be careful how you talk to yourself....because you're listening
Updated: Oct 27, 2021
It's strange but true that we have a relationship with ourselves. We don't tend to think in a monologue - instead we are in a constant dialogue with ourselves. We weren't born with language nor with the ability to think; we only learn to do this by interacting with other people. So the thoughts, words, meanings and attitudes of those who have related to us have all left their traces on our inner self-talk. The impact of this inner dialogue on our wellbeing is every bit as important as the impact that other people have on us. For a start, we are stuck with ourselves 24/7. And it isn't just what we say to ourselves that has an impact, but also the tone of voice we adopt - the general attitude and stance that we take towards ourselves. Most of us will be able to relate to the experience of berating or criticising ourselves. As I listen to what clients tell me about their self-talk, it is striking that they often find it a lot more natural to call themselves an idiot or some other such disparaging term than to say words of kindness and encouragement to themselves. When talking to ourselves in critical and harsh ways, we are mainly aware of the frustration, annoyance and anger that we are feeling at that moment. We tend to be less aware of the part of ourselves that is on the receiving end of the criticism, so we carry on berating ourselves, oblivious to the toll this may be taking on our mental health. We can help ourselves by noticing that when we say "I" and "me" and "mine"... we are actually referring to a very complex being that is made up of different "parts" or "selves" that relate to each other. It's as though there is a mini social world constantly playing out inside our heads. So if we are constantly beating ourselves up and putting ourselves down, there is a "part" of us that is being beaten up and a "part" that is doing the beating. And, just like real-world bullying, our own self-bullying can have equally negative impacts. So learning ways to make your inner world a friendlier place is a key aspect of looking after your mental health.
Psychotherapy and counselling are useful mechanisms to help your "inner world" become a friendlier place to be. Some therapies explicitly refer to the idea of a relationship between inner "parts" of the self. These approaches can be particularly helpful in addressing the problems that arise from the way the different sides of ourselves relate to each other. These approaches include compassion focused therapy, schema therapy, internal family systems therapy, cognitive analytical therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy - though I have found other approaches can also be immensely helpful (for example eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy).
See the Resources page of my website for links to some helpful resources for developing self compassion.