Self Talk

    I have a depressed friend.   She thinks she's ugly and her features are actually quite attractive.  I've often told her that she's attractive and given her pep talks but after a lot of effort she finally says something like "You're just saying that to make me feel better".  In the last conversation I had with her I said to her, it's no good if I tell you that you're attractive, you have to tell yourself that you're attractive.  I explained to her that the negative things she tells herself are self fulfilling prophecies.  I explained that part of what makes one attractive is one's attitude.  I told her that if she believes the's attractive she will be more attractive.  She also complained to me that she was unhappy but told me that she felt better when she talked to me.  I told her that my talking to her could cheer her up for a few minutes but her fighting her negative self talk could help her all the time.

    Shad Helmstetter wrote a book called "What to Say When You Talk to Yourself".  This book recognizes that many of us tell ourselves things such as you're no good, you're a failure and so on.  In his book Dr. Helmstetter gives us alternative suggestions as to what to say to ourselves.   If we conduct negative conversations with ourselves all day than we are likely to be unhappy and simply trying to be happy may not help our moods improve significantly.   It is necessary to be aware of negative self talk and to correct it.  Adam Khan in his book Self Help Stuff That Works suggests ways to change one's self talk to improve one's mood.  A great deal of cognitive therapy is devoted to helping patients correct incorrect depressing thoughts.  I find it helpful to tell myself positive things.  Occasionally I tell myself "I'm proud of you Karl" and "I love you" and "Try to be happy" to boost my mood.  By doing this I also make it less likely that I will tell myself negative things at other times.   This is a form of positive displacement.  I do not mean to imply that this can replace cognitive therapy.  It is a quick and simple adjunct to other time consuming forms of self help.

    In order to deal with negative self talk it is helpful to ask ourselves why we do it.  Often negative self talk is a way of cracking the whip and motivating ourselves to do something. 

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    If we our afraid of failure we may crack the whip with negative self talk to motivate ourselves to work hard so as to avoid failure.  If we do something stupid we may tell ourselves how stupid we are so that we won't repeat the same stupid mistake again.  I discuss ways to deal with negative self motivation in the Happiness is a Choice section.

    It's important to be able to listen to one's self talk.  If one can't another approach is to deliberately tell oneself something and listen for a reaction that comes to mind.  For example, consider someone who is trying to lose weight.  They may tell themselves all sorts of things when they see that delicious chocolate bar like "One chocolate bar won't make a difference and I need one with all the stress I'm going through".  If they don't remember what they said they can pay attention the next time they are tempted by a chocolate bar.   Another thing they can do is imagine themselves saying, "You can't eat that chocolate bar" and imagining how their mind would react.  Or they can imagine how they would feel and what they would say if someone else said "You can't have that chocolate bar".  A natural reaction might be "Who are you to tell me what to do, I can do whatever I want".  Another reaction might be "You're mean to not let me have the chocolate bar". 

    Once we know what are reactions are or what are self talk is, we can start making plans of what to tell ourselves the next time we see that chocolate bar.  For example, we could use the technique of positive displacement to counter the thought "You're mean to not let me have the chocolate bar", with "You're being nice in your effort to get my weight under control."


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