Sometimes in a heated conversation, persons often feel insulted or put down by what the other person is saying and they respond, “Don’t you speak to me like that!” However, even worse than those situations are the ones that are left undressed in how we speak to ourselves. Our own unexamined silent “self-talk” can help us lose perspective. However, with a bit of effort, picking up on any negative or distorted cognitions (ways of thinking, perceiving and understanding) can be the beginning of addressing them in a sensible and powerfully healing way. The following are some simple examples with some different twists in how you address them.
1. When you have made a mistake remember to say to yourself: “Of course I have made a mistake. When you care and are creative you will make mistakes. The more you reach out and seek to be the best you can be, the more mistakes you make. As a matter of fact if you are not making mistakes now and then, you are probably living too narrowly and diffidently because of an inordinate fear of what people will think if you fail.”
2. When people are angry at you remember to say to yourself: “It is good that people feel they can be angry at me and don’t have to worry that I will overreact in return. Just because they are angry at me doesn’t make me a bad person or mean that their anger is capable of destroying me. It gives me a chance to practice poise in such situations and to assertively stand up for what I believe as a way to practice and model it for others.
3. If you don’t succeed remember to say to yourself: “I can’t reach everyone or do well in everything. I can try to be of help to different kinds of people and in various situations, but it is dangerous for me to believe I am everyone’s savior or to accept the expectations some people put on me to have all the answers or to be able to meet all their demands in the way they want, and when they want.”
4. When you feel like a hypocrite in suggesting steps to family, coworkers, friends, or associates on how to overcome resistances to growth and change that you don’t take yourself remember to then say to yourself: “Let me try to ‘practice more often what I preach’ so I can make this a more collaborative journey. I can practice more and more how to enter the ‘promised land’ of clarity, generosity, discipline, faithfulness, and love by following the tenets I propose.”
5. When you feel embarrassed remember to say to yourself: “In a few weeks, months or years, what will all of this means in terms of my life and the freedom I have to fill it with good experiences and compassion?”
6. If you are about to have an outburst of anger remember to say to yourself: “Why am I giving away the power? Let me hold back for a few minutes, hours, or days until I am clear enough to see if this is really important.
7. When people don’t listen, don’t appreciate what you do or make fun of you remember to say to yourself: “Well, you can’t win them all, can you?”
8. When someone is indirectly hostile or passive aggressive (by procrastinating, etc.) remember to say to yourself: “Ah, he doesn’t know he is behaving like this but all the same I have to be careful he doesn’t get to me and in the process waste too much of my energy.”
Self-talk can dramatically improve the quality of your life. It takes a bit of effort. If it is done right, it doesn’t make the errors of arrogance (blaming others for the experience through projection), ignorance (condemning ourselves), or frustration (because we want change NOW) but instead results in our being intrigued by our behavior, thoughts, and feelings, and then taking action to learn and grow from the insights and new reactions we incorporate into our way of living.
Dr. Robert Wicks, who received his doctorate in Psychology from Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital in Philadelphia, is the author of BOUNCE: Living the Resilient Life (Oxford, 2010) and on the faculty of Loyola University Maryland.