Have you tried changing the narrative inside your head? Talking to yourself may just be a healing practice—if you do it right.
Millions of Americans talk to themselves—some out loud, some silently, and some on Twitter (but that’s a conversation for another time). I fall into the first group: I talk to myself out loud.
When I’m alone at home, I speak to myself in another voice, one with a vaguely Eastern European accent. This way I pretend I’m not talking to myself, but to someone smarter than myself. (For some reason I imagine that people with vaguely Eastern European accents are always smarter than me.) I don’t use fake accents when I talk to myself outdoors: I just put my earbuds in my ears and pretend I’m talking to someone on my smartphone. This may sound silly to you, but it isn’t harmful. If there is harm in self-talk, it is not when I am talking to myself, but when my “self” is talking to me.
The ”self” to whom I’m referring is my Inner Critic: a loud, heartless, and ceaselessly critical voice that never tires of dredging up mistakes from my past (recent and distant) and using them as evidence to crush my hopes for positive life-change. It feels like I am on trial, and my Inner Critic is delivering his closing remarks to the jury. When I try to respond I discover I have made a terrible mistake in not hiring a professional defense attorney and choosing instead to defend myself: the Inner Critic is right on every point. Guilty as charged. The sentence? Sleepless nights, bouts of compulsive overeating, and a general failure to thrive.
I’m not saying this happens to me all the time, but it does happen. And I suspect I am not alone in this. We all have our Inner Critic; the question is whether your Critic is more of a coach—criticizing to help you improve—or more like an Inner Bully who just wants to tear you down. I have both. My Inner Critic/Coach keeps me from submitting writing that is garbage. My Inner Critic/Bully wants me to admit that all my writing is garbage, and that every time I put pen to paper I am committing a crime against humanity.
I’ve never been able to silence my Inner Critics (or my outer critics for that matter) but there are constructive ways of engaging with them. This is where Dr. Rachel Turow and her new book, The Self-Talk Workout, come in.
According to Dr. Turow, self-talk can either improve or worsen your mental health depending on how it’s done. If you are prone to depression, anxiety, and stress, negative self-talk can make those conditions worse, whereas compassionate self-talk can make them better.
Chances are you are familiar with negative self-talk: You fat, stupid, unlovable jerk (please don’t take this personally). And chances are, you are dismissive of compassionate self-talk, seeing it as your version of SNL’s Stuart Smalley, who would seek to mask his self-loathing with the mindless affirmation: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”
Rachel Turow isn’t Stuart Smalley, and her book is a serious look at the science of positive self-talk and how you can engage with it to improve your health. I’m not endorsing Dr. Turow—after all who cares what I think anyway?—but I do encourage you to listen to my conversation with her on the Spirituality & Health podcast. You just might learn something that will change your life for the better. (Of course, you won’t learn that something from me because … oh you know.)
Listen to the podcast episode that inspired this article.