Self-Talk Can Be Therapeutic
Talking to ourselves. Does that sound like what old people do? Well, we all do it in some form whether we are aware or not. You may have had your inner voice reassure, “It’ll be okay,” or ask criticizing questions like, “How did I screw this up?” It’s a habitual and natural inner dialogue that we all have. If you don’t recall, these self-talks may be happening unconsciously for you. The inner voice usually helps us plan, motivate, problem-solve, practice critical thinking, and reflect.
For many of us, the self-talk persona is directly tied to our self-worth image. Oftentimes, self-dialogues are shaped by how the surrounding people talked to us as we grew up. What have you said to yourself recently? Was the voice positive and encouraging, or was it full of self-criticism? Learning how to control our internal conversations can have a positive effect on our mental well-being and stress coping capabilities.
Positive & Negative Self-Talk
An increase in negative self-talk allows the development of self-doubt and poor self-perception. This leads to higher stress, anxiety, depression, and shame. Research indicates that self‐criticism is related to stress‐induced changes in our biochemistry.
If the tendency of self-criticism is already a habit, it can be hard to catch. Observations of our usual internal dialogues can identify where the negative traps are. Some environments or people may be making you vulnerable to negative self-talk. Being aware of situations prone to stimulate negativity can help us navigate better, prepare, and avoid them altogether. Another good method is to recognize, stop, and evaluate how we are talking to ourselves at times of stress. If we feel entangled within our own negative thoughts, we can instead focus on how to rephrase our experience in a neutral or positive light. Changing the way we think may take some time, but with practice, we can re-wire our brains to steer away from toxic internal conversations.
An increase in positive self-talk enhances our motivation, performance, and general well-being. An optimistic and encouraging perspective leads to better mental skills for problem-solving, out-of-the-box thinking, and coping skills for hardships or challenges. On top of that, it reduces the harmful effects of stress and anxiety.
A study on the impact of self-talk affirms the important habit of restating negative statements into positive ones. Scientists say that consciously feeding our minds with positive empowering self-talk is a crucial skill that changes our perspectives and attitudes towards ourselves and others. This is why many self-help advisors suggest using daily positive affirmations. Try increasing the frequency and volume of encouraging internal dialogues. Hanging out with positive people can help too. The people we surround ourselves with can have a huge impact on the language we tend to use. See how you can reframe a negative comment into a more encouraging one. In the end, the best pep-squad for you is YOU!
‘How’ We Self-Talk Matters
A Constructive Second-Person Dialogue
Some of us may find that forced positivity onto our inner thoughts can be uncomfortable. People who identify themselves as ‘realists’ may have difficulties turning a blind eye to the negative while covering it with positive self-talk. The good news is, is that there is a more constructive and effective way than just swamping ourselves in positive talks!
In 2014, a research team at Michigan University examined the different ways people held their internal conversations and how it affected them. Researchers asked participants to prepare for a public speech and then divided them where each group was asked to self-talk using different pronouns as they prepared. The results revealed that the pronouns and language mattered more so than whether the conversation was negative or positive. The group that used second-person pronouns performed the best; feeling less regret, shame, or stress after their speech. Taken from these results, we understand that small shifts in pronoun use towards ourselves influence our ability to regulate feelings, thoughts, and behaviors even under social stress.
Perspective Shifts Through Pronouns
To give a comparative, here are examples of a first, second, and third-person perspective. Try reading them out loud as if you were talking to yourself and feel the difference.
A. “I should prepare for my exams. Why haven’t I started?”
B. “I am not nervous. I am going to talk slowly so people understand me.”
A. “You should prepare for your exams. Why haven’t you started yet?
B. “Don’t be nervous. You should talk slowly so that people understand you.”
A. “(Your Name) should prepare for his/her exams. Why hasn’t he/she started yet?
B. “(Your Name) shouldn’t feel nervous. (Your Name) should talk slowly so that people understand him/her.”
A first-person question like “Why haven’t I started?” can sound like self-criticism, while a second-person perspective can create a friendly distance. The third-person pronoun may feel more distant where the close feeling fades away. According to science, introspections in the second-person creates the perfect distance between our internal voice and issues.
Self-Distancing Is Key
When we are self-immersed in situations, we tend to use first-person pronouns. Switching-up pronouns can be effective in creating a “self-distance”. Self-distancing is the ability to critically reflect on ourselves from an external perspective. This naturally tends to follow the languages of a second or third-person pronoun. When we talk in third-person, our brain behaves the same as if we were talking to another person.
Why is internal self-distancing an important skill to our mental health? First, it can assist us to better regulate anxieties under stress. Second, it helps us appraise potential social stressors as less threatening and more so a healthy challenge to take on. Third, it strengthens us to preserve self-control in stressful situations, helping us perform better.
Here is how to create self-distance within our inner dialogues:
- Use second-person pronouns to assure that you are not self-immersed.
- Offer reassurance and encouragement, the same as you would do for a friend who’s struggling.
- Acknowledge your emotions. Instead of dismissing it, see if you could give constructive and compassionate advice.
- Visualize the goal. Detach yourself from the current moment and concentrate on making a plan to achieve results.
- Journal. Writing things on paper can create the necessary emotional distance for more objective perspectives.
Self-distancing through visual imagery can also be useful, but a lot of times it requires environments where we can concentrate on our imaginations. Talking to ourselves through an internal dialogue is much easier to do even while we are carrying difficult tasks. This is why self-talking in the second-person is the most instant way to gain the results and benefits of self-distancing.
Practicing our skills in self-talk is a great way to regulate our mental health. After all, our own voice what we will be hearing most repeatedly throughout life. It’s something we can start immediately without external help and feel instant results of encouragement. Are you talking to yourself in a way that excels you or harms you? Give yourself a chance to be the best support possible!
References:Cascio, C. N., O’Donnell, M. B., Tinney, F. J., Lieberman, M. D., Taylor, S. E., Strecher, V. J., & Falk, E. B. (2015). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11(4), 621–629. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsv136
Chopra, K. (2012). Impact of positive self-talk. University of Lethbridge Research Repository. https://hdl.handle.net/10133/3202
Gruen, R. J., Silva, R., Ehrlich, J., Schweitzer, J. W., & Friedhoff, A. J. (1997). Vulnerability to Stress: Self-Criticism and Stress-Induced Changes In Biochemistry. Journal of Personality, 65(1), 33–47. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1997.tb00528.x
Holland, K. (2018, October 17). Positive Self-Talk: How Talking to Yourself Is a Good Thing. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/positive-self-talk
Kross, E., Bruehlman-Senecal, E., Park, J., Burson, A., Dougherty, A., Shablack, H., Bremner, R., Moser, J., & Ayduk, O. (2014). Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: How you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(2), 304–324. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035173
Rawlings, R. (2019, May 7). The Connection Between Self-Talk and Wellbeing – Mind Cafe. Medium. https://medium.com/mind-cafe/what-self-talk-has-to-say-about-mental-health-d87a22ca0848