We talk to ourselves all day long. This is our internal monologue. We debate with ourselves about eating another eggroll, or drinking another cup of coffee, or how to respond to an email. Regardless of the topic, we hear our voice running through our head. That voice isn’t a signifier for any mental health issues. I am not talking about auditory hallucinations. An auditory hallucination is the hearing of a voice that isn’t your own. One that you don’t have any control over. In this blog, we want to focus on how that voice of ours, that we do have control over, talks to us.
At different times throughout our day, that voice might be positive and boost our confidence. At other times, that voice might be demeaning and critical. Either way, the main thing we need to remember is the message we’re listening to in our head is up to us. That’s easy to remember right? But what if that voice is a recording of our past on replay? Then, that voice doesn’t feel like a choice anymore.
My favorite quote from Dr. Joe Dispenza is, “nerve cells that fire together, wire together.” Every time we repeat a thought, it leads to a corresponding emotion, ultimately leading to a predictable behavior. All the while, reinforcing the neurological connection in our brain.
Here is the catch
That thought we hear might not be original to us. It might have been a message that was given to us earlier in life. Regardless, that voice is here to stay. Once we become aware of it, we can’t become unaware. The act of making the unconscious conscious is where the work begins.
In other words, we are unable to change what we are currently unaware of. How we feel and how we behave originates in how we talk to ourselves. I have never met someone who talked to themselves with compassion and kindness while also living a life full of depression and anxiety.
I want to repeat that
once we become aware of how we talk to ourselves, we can take control of the messages that replay in our heads. This takes vigilance and patience. This also takes grace and compassion. Let’s put this into practice. Do we want to change our relationship with food? How about our relationship with finances? Our activity levels? Our time spent worry about things in our lives? How about how we find ourselves responding to things in our life with aggression or withdrawal?
Whatever we wish to change in our lives, it is most effective to meet our knee-jerk dialogue or immediate behavioral response with a level of compassion and kindness. This may sound counterintuitive, but I want to illustrate the point that I am making with some questions. If you made a mistake, and I started to call you names and judge you, would you be inspired to act differently in the future? Maybe you will want to act differently to avoid being chastised, but will that inspire you for long-lasting change?
This short-lived motivation is an attempt to avoid being put down. Anger, resentment, avoidance, and other unhealthy emotions and behaviors will ultimately become the effect. Every time you make a mistake, I put you down. In addition, every time you do something correctly, I tell you that you should have been doing that all along. The result of this exercise is a growing sensation of depressed moods and bouts of anxiety. Now, let’s replace me putting you down with your voice. Would your anger and growing resentment be toward me, or would it be toward you?
When there is a critical response to a desired change, there is a limited amount of change that will occur, let alone be long-lasting. Our punitive voice is coming from a foundation of negativity. Being self-critical doesn’t inspire lasting change because the belief that is driving our self-talk is negative. We aren’t able to make a positive out of two negatives. This creates a spiraling effect. A negative belief in ourselves drives negative self-talk. Negative self-talk fuels a self-defeating behavior. As a result, the negative belief is reinforced by how we behave and our response to that choice.
Here is an example
The holiday season is over, and I am now out of peanut butter blossom cookies. Don’t judge me, I am still grieving over that. Unfortunately, my waistline suffered the results of my peanut butter blossom addiction. The more cookies I ate, the more I told myself that I should stop. This made me feel weak because I wasn’t able to follow my command of stopping. My failure led me to think critically about myself, and I felt bad. This developed the need to self-soothe. How did I self-soothe? With peanut butter blossom cookies, of course! See the pattern?
With everything that I have already mentioned about negative thoughts leading to negative feelings and taking us further away from the desired changes that we want to make – let’s now try something different. Enter the ideas of kindness and compassion. Instead of putting you down and being critical, I treat you with compassion. When you make a mistake, I am kind to you and guide you into a healthier decision. When you make a choice that isn’t helpful, I turn it into a teaching moment and offer support.
How would that feel?
Would you be more inspired to make healthier choices? Would you be as angry, depressed, or anxious? Now, turn my voice into yours. You are now the one inspiring your change and disarming the need to exhibit anger.
While the idea of turning your critical thinking into compassionate thinking to inspire lasting change sounds simple, it is challenging in application. Here are some suggestions on how to implement compassionate thinking into your life.
First, you need to be aware of how you are talking to yourself.
For every event where you are faced with a decision, write down what the event was and the decision that you made. List what your emotional state was and the internal dialogue that you used during and after your decision. It doesn’t matter whether the decision was healthy or unhealthy, learn from the emotional state and internal dialogue that you recorded. See if there is anything in your self-talk or behavior that can be altered to support a healthier choice in the future. If the overall experience was positive, learn how to replicate that process for future situations.
Would you say that to a friend?
If you don’t believe that you are good enough, and you make a mistake, calling yourself names is not going to inspire you to make healthier choices later. It will only reinforce the belief of being inadequate. When you find yourself making a choice that is not helpful in the long term, adopt a statement of compassion. Tell yourself what you would tell a friend or a family member as if they made a similar mistake. Show yourself the same kindness that you would show someone that you care about.
When you make a healthy choice, celebrate it.
It’s common to make a healthy choice and then think to yourself, “yeah, I should have been making that choice all along.” If this is the case, you are not giving yourself the much-needed reinforcement for consistent ongoing change. If someone told you that you did a good job with something, it is more likely that you will replicate that same behavior because it was rewarded with a compliment. The same rule applies to yourself. Give yourself a compliment for a job well done.
Be mindful of using the word “should.
Should is a command that creates a pattern of resistance and self-deprecation. You command yourself to do something, you naturally resist the command, then you put yourself down for not doing what it is that you told yourself that you should do. In addition, you do what it is that you should be doing, and then you reward yourself with the self-judgment, “you should have done that anyway.” Either way, you are not able to get ahead. Remove the “should” and replace it with a choice. “I could.” “I’d rather.” “If I do this, then I might feel….” “If I do this, then I can…” When you give yourself a choice, there is a higher likelihood that you will make a healthier decision.
If you have consistently worked on increasing your self-compassion, and you are still struggling, please call The Center for Trauma, Stress, and Anxiety, LLC at (443) 567-7037 to make an appointment with a therapist.