by David Beckett
For three years I lived with a roommate who had schizophrenia. He was tortured by voices. He believed that a device was placed on his larynx by the government and that it (they), directed his actions and prompted his thoughts. He believed that he had no control over his thoughts, words or actions, and would yell out what they were saying and yell out his resistance, arguing with them all the while.
I have the same type of thing going on. Not schizophrenia, but voices in my head so to speak, that speak to me - they are the voices of my parents, my teachers, authority figures, friends, enemies, etc.
These voices are are an amalgamation that have become part of my inner dialogue, my self-talk. With all these voices, all this chatter, it can sometimes be difficult to hear my own inner voice, the voice of my soul and spirit, the voice that is fully my own.
This is especially true when I’m low on energy or need sleep.
Add to this the distraction of the external world, the daily living and the concentration needed for what is going on now.
How is one to navigate? How is one to decide the best course of action? How is one to remain at peace? How is one to achieve fulfillment and wholeness?
One of the things I’ve noticed about my self-talk or inner dialogue is that the voices tend to tell me what not to do or try, what not to think, what not to be. They are the voices of can’t, don’t or won’t.... “you can’t win”, “you don’t really want that”, “you won’t succeed”. They are the voices of defeat and resignation that chip away at my self-esteem and self-confidence. They would keep me in my comfort zone, safe and insecure, afraid of trying new things or experiencing a richer life.
My inner voice, the one that I’ve come to recognize as truly my own, on the other hand, encourages me to go beyond familiar ground. It tells me to reach for the stars, to explore new possibilities, to reach out to others and make new connections. It was the voice that told me to go back to school for a new career when I was nearly fifty years old. It was the voice that told me to offer a homeless man with schizophrenia a place to stay. It is the voice of empowerment.
One way to get a clearer idea of what is going on with self-talk is to visualize it as a conversation between two people:
Me: I’m thinking of applying for the full time position.
Them: Why? You won’t get it. You don’t really have what it takes, do you? There are many more qualified and deserving people. Why embarrass yourself?
Me: Still, it’s worth a shot, no? What do I have to lose? I should at least try or I’ll regret it later.
Them: Sure, but you’ll make a fool of yourself in the interview. Even if you do get it, you won’t like it. It’ll be too much for you. You’ll just stress yourself out for nothing.
In the example, I am beating myself up, tearing myself down, and essentially berating myself. There really isn’t a ‘them’, just me talking to myself. There is no encouragement. If I heard this conversation happening between two real people, I would feel the impulse to interject and perhaps try to correct the one doing the berating. I would certainly not see it as a healthy conversation. It sounds less like a dialogue and more like a scolding. A lot of our self-talk is along these lines and quite often, even more demoralizing.
Picture how you talk to someone you care about and how you support them. Do you talk to them like the scenario above? Of course you don’t, so why would you talk to yourself that way?
I’m not saying that we should put critical thinking aside or follow every whim that comes along. We need critical thinking to notice how we are talking to ourselves, and to modify it. The key to getting to the point of supporting yourself is through awareness. It takes practice to become aware of our inner dialogue, and even more practice to change how we talk to ourselves. When we become aware though, we can do something about it. Even just noticing it, we begin to do something. Once we recognize how we talk to ourselves, we can start treating ourselves like we would treat a friend.