Most of us have an inner dialogue that is running all the time. Unless you meditate (and even then it can be very difficult), most people can't get away from themselves. Because your inner dialogue is with you all the time, you may even confuse it for who you are or believe it what you tell yourself is always right.
You are not your thoughts. If you try to observe your thoughts, you are actually the witness of your thoughts. This can be a very helpful practice. The inner dialogue can be wrong and we need to pay attention so that we don't accept every message it gives us. Just consider how many times you have told yourself something and then realized you were wrong.
Paying attention to your thoughts and being able to redirect them or change them is a very important part of mental health. Doing this can be part of the problem or part of the solution, depending on the messages you feed yourself.
As an example, someone's inner dialogue might go like this: "I need to pick up milk at the store. You idiot! You should have gotten it yesterday while you were at the store. I can't believe that car just pulled right out in front of me. What a jerk! Can't you see me? I'm right here! Who is that calling me right now? I can't get a break! Why can't people just leave me alone for five minutes! No one would be able to get along without me. I have to do everything for everyone in my family. They don't even appreciate me. Why should they? I'm not really good enough. I yell at everyone. They seem stressed just having me around...."
How much attention do you pay to your inner voice? Does it sound like that or are you kinder to yourself (and others)? The same scenario could sound differently if your inner dialogue was like this:
"I think I'll stop and get some milk on my way home. Woa! Good thing I was watching out. I hope that other driver gets where they're going alright. They must be in a hurry. Hmm, I hear my phone but I'm driving right now. I will check it after I park my car. I'm glad to be driving home and spending time with my family. I'm so lucky to have them!"
Why is the person in the first dialogue so much more stressed than the person in the second dialogue? Maybe they have all the same stresses in their lives but it's the way they talk to themselves that makes the difference. Can you pick out some of the differences between the underlying beliefs in the two examples?
Stop and listen to what you say to yourself. Is it critical, judgmental and mean? "Why can't I do anything right? What is wrong with me? I'm such a loser. No wonder no one seems to care about me. Why should anyone care? Remember that major screw up you made last week?"
People are often rough with themselves thinking it will help with self-improvement. "I can't be nice to myself. If I did, I would let myself get away with all kinds of things. By talking to myself this way, I can make sure I shape up." Actually, the opposite is true. Beating yourself up in your mind all the time takes away your confidence, your motivation and the good feelings you might have otherwise had. Imagine if you talked to your friends like that. Would you even have friends? Stop and listen to yourself and try to correct the messages you give yourself to be more like something you would want to say to a friend, something like, "You'll do better next time."
Isn't that more motivating? Besides, it is much less likely to coincide with depression, anxiety and low self-confidence. Try paying attention to your inner dialogue and adjust the messages you give yourself. It might help to write your thoughts or type them. That way you can really take time to look at the messages and find ways to adjust them to more positive, accepting, optimistic, motivating messages.
This article is written by Alicia Shamblin LMSW, working as psychotherapist at Apex Behavioral Health Dearborn. Please click here to visit her page.