I’ve been having a chat with myself about “self talk”
In this blog, FLiP’s in-house therapist, Andrew Pearce, discusses self talk and how to overcome self doubt.
What is “self talk”?
Most people’s heads seem to have some kind of internal dialogue going on a lot of the time. It appears some of us are more prone than others. It could be a kind of argumentative or critical little voice inside a person’s head, often giving them a hard time about one thing or another.
Some common examples could be:
“I should do this…. I ought to do that …. I must do the other….”
“Am I right/am I wrong?”
“Is it good/is it bad?”
“This might happen/that might happen…”
“I’m not good enough…”
“If I’m perfect/do it perfectly then they will like me…(so failure is not ok)”
To a point this can be helpful. For example, it might mean we are conscientious, or work to high standards, or show consideration to others.
However, continually questioning what you are thinking, doing or feeling heightens anxiety, often to the point where we become the “rabbit in the headlights” unable to make decisions or take action. Hardly helpful when it comes to getting on with life!
Where does “self talk” come from?
As Virginia Satir said, “We are all just kids grown big”. In other words, these thought patterns have been around for a while often since childhood. As young children we uncritically accept what authority figures such a parents/teachers tell us. If we hear messages consistently, we take them as our own and they become generalised into rules we apply to ourselves. The problem is that what was true then (as a child) may well not apply or be relevant now. For example, cultural norms and what is acceptable have changed a good deal over the last 30 years.
In a nutshell, we end up applying someone else’s rules/values from “back there back then” to ourselves “here and now”.
Little wonder we end up confused and frustrated by repeating patterns and limiting ourselves and our potential for success.
What can I do about “self talk”?
Consistent negative messages wear us down and become self-fulfilling. Imagine if you listened to the news all day every day…energy draining! It is important to pay attention to the news so you know what is going on and then change the channel to something more uplifting.
- If you do a lot of “should/ought/must” ask yourself, “according to whom?”. If it is according to you and is relevant now, fair enough. If not, then ask yourself “what do I want to do now?” or “what is the best course of action for me now?”.
If you are concerned about consequences ask yourself:
- What will happen if I do…?
- What will happen if I don’t…?
- What is the worst that could happen…?
- If you are someone who seeks perfection ask yourself if that is really achievable. Will you ever be satisfied with less than 110% and is that helpful?
If not, what is a more realistic percentage that will be “good enough”? In a scenario where someone is successful, 80% of the time they would be seen as doing very well. Learn from the 20% of course and at the same time it offers an escape route from the hamster wheel of seeking perfection and the trap of inaction without the certainty of success.
The bottom line is that this is about interrupting and disempowering the pattern/cycle of habitual negative self-talk and creating more choice and empowering yourself now. Outlined above are some ideas about what you can do to help yourself. There are a lot of “self help” books available that go into more detail than I can here.
Sometimes we need to get some outside help. Often a chat with a colleague or friend can really help and costs nothing more than the time invested (and coffee & cake)! Sometimes just talking it through and externalising our thoughts has huge benefit and I hope this article will provoke such discussions and make it “ok” to talk.
Andrew Pearce is one of our in-house therapists. He is a UKCP Registered Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor. At FLiP Andrew’s practice includes supporting individuals and couples across a wide range of family issues including divorce and separation.