The power of words: self talk – to harm or to heal?

Last month I wrote about the power of words and how the words that surround us can uplift or destroy the moment.

But what about the conversations we hold with our self … in other words, our self-talk. Self talk is present with us all, a collection of things we are involved in or a jumble of random suggestions accumulated over time. Unfortunately very often the thoughts we present to ourselves are not helpful.

A great deal is written and argued upon about the way we are thinking and the strong influence of negative thinking. And there’s also lots written about positive self-talk in a bid to counteract the power of the negative. The general conclusion on the topic of self-talk is that our negative internal discussions may well lead to depression, anxiety, dis-ease and a sense of worthlessness. Let’s look at the how and why behind self-talk, because its’ existence, in reality, all relates to the history of information given to us.

This is where elders and others come into the picture – the powerful influences who unwittingly, at times, irresponsibly, direct our thinking and very often, our lives. And not forgetting of course, that each one of us has similar power over others and in the long run, greater power over our self than we sometimes imagine!

A positive self develops from the love and security surrounding that self. Real skills for life are learned from reliable parents who have learned similarly from their own parents, siblings, and other relatives within the family story. Real skills for life evolve from respect, kindness, thoughtfulness, consideration of others, humour, light hearted-ness and most of all, serenity.

the-power-of-wordsThose of us who are grandparents are in perhaps the most prominent and privileged position of all as we directly or indirectly generate helpful or unhelpful ideas to our children and therefore, to theirs.

School teachers, too, hold the role of responsibility in generating poor self image or genuine self-confidence to their students from a very early age.

In fact, all figures of authority are teachers in some way and hold a powerful influence over the less experienced. Such figures include members of the wider family, neighbours, friends, peers, tutors, doctors, counsellors and workplace superiors – not to mention, once again, the power of social media and popular public figures.

When people find themselves addressing themselves in flawed self talk (judging, criticizing and negating their uniqueness), emotional problems may well develop.

To provide help for such problems, the goal of shifting that inner conversation to the positive precipitates tips for thinking positively. Here’s such an example from Headspace directed to the young, which offers the following advice to assist in reframing negative thinking:

• I am capable
• I know who I am and I am special
• I love eating healthy food
• I am confident around other people
• I always observe before reacting
• I know with time and effort I can achieve
• I love challenges and what I learn from overcoming them

In a world currently obsessed with the ‘self’, the regrettable ‘me’ factor, I wonder at the level of good judgment surrounding those tips. I wonder who created those tips as repeated above. Someone quite young I would guess because I would challenge the experience and the wisdom they hold in the following ways:

• the promise of capability without discernment as to time and place and circumstance, is irresponsible.
• promoting ‘specialness’ of itself encourages arrogance which eventually brings more pain
• using the word ‘love’ as a positive prompt for healthy eating trivialises the importance of love
• too much emphasis on confidence, again, can lead to arrogance
• it’s not always possible to observe before reacting as delays in dangerous situations are not safe
• time and application with the right motive, could be a more positive tip
• the word love in this context is again negating the very love that is most helpful to positive image

So any one who teaches anything must take care with the words used, even those used with the best of intention.

We’ve all experienced pain through the power of the words of another. As a young adolescent the direction of my future changed dramatically when a powerful teacher told my mother (in my hearing) that there was ‘no point in sending her for a scholarship – she’d never get it’. I’ve never forgotten that decisive moment as I stood by, helplessly, knowing she was actually wrong. I wished that my mother would have defended me and defended herself in the nicest and firmest possible way; to offer healing words instead of believing in the negative influence of the teacher. The fact that she didn’t or couldn’t do so – probably trusting the teacher rather than herself – demonstrates my point of the importance of historical wisdom to effectively nurture positive attitudes in the young. It took lots of ‘work’ to recover from that statement but ultimately ignited a fire in me to do my best to succeed that perhaps had only been smouldering before.

If negativity is our focus as we direct our day, it’s important to challenge those thoughts. Let’s remember that they have most likely become a ‘normal’ response grown from the seeds of faulty instructions we’ve learned along the way.

  • are we simply repeating the less healing information and concepts learned from someone among our elders who we believed in?
  • do we use words in our head today that belong to yesterday?
  • do we hold fast to the words of anger that welled up at some time in our life?
  • do we mull over and over the moments we need to forget?
  • do we chide our self, denigrate our self, deny our self – and perhaps others – the compassion of real love?
  • do we worry unnecessarily about our health because someone in our earlier life indicated fragility?
  • have we become dependent on pills and potions because a medical advisor once recommended them?
  • do we have the completely wrong perspective on certain matters?
  • can we give those others another chance – reinvent the story with a different dialogue and a happier ending?
  • can we look with new vision upon our hopes, dreams and goals and believe in favourable outcomes?

If we can begin to make those kinds of changes, little by little, then the words in our head will begin to change and begin to heal us.

Gradually and tenderly then may emerge another layer of self awareness – the result of thoughtfully joining feelings … with thoughts … with events. With another such step in personal growth, surely better health can be counted upon.