Not So Crazy Talk
When I was a teenager, starting to hang out with friends and stay out later in the evening, my grandmother Rachel offered me a bit of advice for staying safe. Walking back to my car alone, or confronted with unsavory characters, she told me that I should start talking to myself out loud. The louder, the better. Just say whatever I was thinking out loud for all to hear. Her theory: if you audibly talk to yourself, people will think you are absolutely crazy and they will just leave you alone. So, I took her words to heart and rather than packing Mace or self-defense skills, I just remembered to use my words. In graduate school, interning for a county child protective services unit, talking out loud came in handy on a daily basis as I navigated public housing projects and some pretty unsavory urban areas. I would mutter and communicate as I felt necessary, keeping confrontations with people around me at bay. I got plenty of looks, but I never once got assaulted. People really did just leave me alone.
The inherent lesson learned was that talking to myself was NOT normal. Talking to yourself out loud was certainly unacceptable. It just shouldn’t be done under normal circumstances, and only people who are truly crazy are caught doing it. And unfortunately, that messaging is just not correct. We are supposed to speak to ourselves, silently and out loud, if we choose. Not just in a dark alley coming back from the club. Not just walking to our car in a shady parking structure.
Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly talking to ourselves...in our heads. This self-talk is normal. Thoughts about what we see or hear. Silent retorts to comments we hear from a stranger. A running dialogue about what is on our shopping list or where we need to drive next. The words to songs. A replay of an argument. Our internal dialogue is never-ending in volume and content. And it includes what we observe about others and the world, and more importantly, what we say and observe about ourselves.
The words we speak to ourselves about ourselves matter above all else. That kind of self-talk can be a real game-changer. Through our dialogue with ourselves, we have the capacity to be our absolute worst critic, or to be our very own best friend. Through our words we have the opportunity to elevate our better angels, or tear ourselves apart beyond repair.
Talking to ourselves is much more than just a Jiminy Cricket, a conscience telling us right from wrong. Talking to ourselves is all of the information we direct to ourselves in total. The muttered grievance after smashing our toe on the corner of the wall, again. The criticism offered when the steak burns in the oven. We far too often happily speak to ourselves when we are offering something negative.
“What were you thinking?”
“I look terrible in all of these clothes.”
“I can’t do anything right.”
“This is always my fault.”
These statements to self are just not nice. It doesn’t matter if you don’t actually speak them out loud. Maybe we should have some rules?
Stay positive and quiet the negativity that surfaces so easily. There is no point in telling yourself every day that you are the most beautiful person in the world if you actually believe that you are average looking. Instead, tell yourself that you have a great smile, or lovely eyes, or average is exactly how you want to be. When other people tell you unrealistic, unbelievable things, you don’t pay them much mind. The same is true for whatever you say to yourself. So stay realistic by pointing out things that matter, that are true, and that you can believe.
Stay constructive and deal in only facts, not distorted beliefs that you have created. Hear your own voice and believe what you have to say. Self-talk is about you, not what others are doing or feeling or saying. It is for you, not for the purpose of pleasing someone else or trying to change their narrative.
Be consistent. Check in with yourself regularly to see how you are doing. Find ways to “say” something nice every morning when you face yourself in the mirror.
“Way to go.” “You are beautiful when you smile.”
“You are strong and healthy.”
“You did a great job choosing your words carefully.”
“You are learning as you go - be patient.”
And if you are willing to say them in your head, are you willing to speak them out loud? Not because you are trying to scare others away, but simply because hearing your own voice matters?
Go ahead and be crazy. Talk to yourself. Say it out loud. And be kind. Use the self-dialogue to bring you to a better place. My grandma’s goal was to keep me safe from harm. She thought that teaching me to talk to myself was the best way to protect me. She wasn’t entirely wrong. Self-talk is indeed protective. It keeps us safe from the negative messages that live in the world. It keeps us safe from the experiences of living that can chip away at our well-being and our ability to believe in our own power. Self-talk done right is one of the most powerful self-help tools in the arsenal. Who really needs Mace when you have all of that?