The Dangerous Habit of Self-Talk

The Dangerous Habit of Self-Talk July 9, 2018

We all do it. Nobody really admits to it, except maybe in passing as a joke or a flippant excuse. But we are all talking to ourselves all the time. We laugh about it when it happens out loud. However, most of our self-talk is silent, an internal whisper that no one will ever know about.

There is nothing inherently wrong with self-talk. It is how we process things. A filter we use to make sense of our existence before we share it with the world.

Sometimes the system fails. Sometimes all of that self-talk is poisoned with lies or false perspective. And sometimes our self-talk keep us from interacting with the world rather than preparing us to. And sometimes patterns of thought, habits of perspective, start to develop that isolate us from the relationships and communities we need to thrive.


Is It True?

One of the fundamental dangers of self-talk is that it is not always true. In a world of fear, we create stories that realize our imagined terrors, even if they are not true. We are always on the verge of one of our deep fears being realized. Our imagination fills in holes, creates narratives, and justifies our fears by playing out the worst-case scenarios as facts.

How terrible would it be if all of our self-talk perceptions were actually reality. The school would hate us, we’d never find a boyfriend, the world would have ended in six different ways over the last year.

It’s not just the big things that this affects. It is the little things. We cast ourselves as the victim and parse other people’s motives and intentions. We beat ourselves up for being stupid or ugly or worthless.

Our internal monologue is like an animal that feeds on itself. That animal is sometimes monstrous. It tells us things that are untrue, that validate our fear, that reinforce our false perspectives.

The only way to test the truth of our self-talk is to bring it out. Introducing our perception into community is the only way to test and refine it. The only way to make it more true.


Is It Acceptable?

The reason we participate in and guard self-talk so maniacally is because we are trying to figure out if we are okay. Am I acceptable? Do I belong? Self-talk is both the first and last responder to our considerations. The decision about whether or not we are okay is, ironically, within ourselves. Self-acceptance is the bookend, the front and back filter of determining our identity. We make the choices that make us who we are.

That is scary enough. But what is even more frightening is exposing ourself to the world, showing who we truly are to others. We’re not sure we can survive the gauntlet. Not sure what lies or abuses we will be forced to endure.

The result is that self-talk becomes the voice over for our lives. No one else hears it. No one truly knows us or what we are thinking. Nobody shares in our hurts or truly celebrates with our triumphs.

This is why online activity is so popular. We can control what we let out. We can edit what is exposed.

At its best, self-talk is like a locker room speech before a game. The players at their locker include Passion, Ability, Values, Longings – and the all-star of the team, Identity. Valuable self-talk pumps us up to go out and play the game.

Too often, the speech is not about empowering or motivating, it is about fear. The result is that the players never take the field. They never truly see any action because the voice-over is telling them they won’t be accepted for being who they are. Too many of us are bunkered in the locker room, talking about all of the ways this could go wrong.

The only way to be acceptable is to look one another in the eye (within that locker room) and accept the fact that you are acceptable. All the players are acceptable. And then get out in the filed and do what you were meant to do.


Is It Meaningful?

Just like most of the talk in the exposed world, self-talk has slipped into the unfortunate arena of superficiality. How does my hair look? How many likes am I getting on Instagram? Etc.

Self-talk is not just a voice of intellect. It is spirit and soul. With all of the superficial examinations, our self-talk starts to assign significant meaning to things that are not truly significant.

Our inner monologue is deeply rooted in our deepest longings. It gets messy and confused when we try to paint over them with things that do not really matter.

The challenge of perception is to make sense of all that we see in the world. Our self-talk can be a tool to further that agenda or an obstacle to it.

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