One of the few things that still surprises me after working as a counsellor for so long, is how mean people are to themselves. I get to work with some really beautiful people with wonderful hearts who are generally kind to those around them. The only person they are intentionally mean to is themselves. Some of the things they say to themselves with their internal dialogue is not only cruel but wrong. So obviously wrong sometimes that it is hard to see how they even arrived at that thought!!
All of us have our own internal chatter. This is normal. But how accurate that chatter is, how kind it is, will largely determine how you feel about yourself and life overall.
Healthy, positive dialogue will help you be your authentic self and keep you focused on the right path for yourself. It will help you make the best choices for you. A positive voice will be forgiving of mistakes and empathetic in the right moments. A healthy voice will help you have healthy relationships. It will help you pursue a career path you want. This voice will help you surround yourself with people who are right for you. It will help you to look after yourself and not allow others to treat you badly. A healthy voice matters.
Unhealthy, negative dialogue will stop you from being completely authentic and content with yourself. An unhealthy voice may stop you from being who you really want to be. An unhealthy voice may get in the way of the career choices you may actually really want. The unhealthy voice may keep you in a relationship that isn’t good for you or perhaps date people who don’t align with you. An unhealthy voice will make life harder. It will not help you be content.
So, what are some examples of healthy and unhealthy dialogue?
To show this, I am going to use some real examples of past clients. These examples aren’t one client, but a blending of what I hear from people put into one example for the sake of confidentiality.
Unhealthy example: Tina is a 37 year old Mum of 2 who came to counselling as she was feeling like she had lost her identity and whilst life looked like it should be good, she wasn’t happy. After working with Tina, we learnt that she had grown up trying to please her parents and she thought that the best way to get approval was to do what others wanted (not true but a belief system that was set when she was a child). Tina tried to be kind to everyone and owned the behaviour of her family and friends. If someone was upset, she wondered what she had said wrong and would try even harder to be perfect for them. She never said no to anyone for fear of upsetting them. As a result, she was going to parties and outings that she didn’t like but pretended to in order to fit in and please people. Her husband was the only one she was her authentic self with and she would vent her frustration and unhappiness at him. He couldn’t understand why Tina was so nice to everyone else and not to him.
Tina’s internal dialogue was that she didn’t really fit in with the other Mums at school, she wasn’t quite skinny enough and she could never think of the ‘right’ thing to say so she was often quiet and then she thought that the others must think she was boring. She didn’t have a career, she was a stay-at-home Mum and she felt that she should feel grateful for this, but really, she resented it and wished that she had pursued her dream of becoming a teacher. She didn’t tell anyone this because that would seem ungrateful for her ‘perfect’ life. Tina knew what she wanted but her internal dialogue wouldn’t allow her to follow her needs.
Tina was kind to everyone else and mean to herself, constantly telling herself that she was boring, didn’t say the right thing, wasn’t allowed to be sad, should be grateful for the life she had even though a lot of it wasn’t what she wanted. As a result, she was mildly depressed and watching her life from the outside with sadness.
Tina was in fact a really great person who was funny, intelligent and drew people to her. Her husband thought he was looking after her by telling her not to work but was happy for her to study and pursue a career if she wanted. Her friends thought she had it all together and loved having her at their events. In sessions, we worked through her negative dialogue and Tina was able to identify what she really wanted in life and pursue it. She also learnt to say no to things she really didn’t want to do. Tina, with a lot of work, changed her internal dialogue to be more accurate and positive and became her authentic self.
Healthy Example: Alice was 33 and came to counselling as she had a boyfriend who she had been dating for 2 years but was questioning the relationship as he was pushing for children together. She wanted to work through her thinking as people kept telling her she should stay in the relationship. According to her family and friends, her partner was so nice and she was at the age to settle down and have kids. She was pretty adamant with what she wanted but felt she would use a counsellor to bounce around her ideas before making a decision.
Alice worked as a marketing manager of a large company and loved her work. She played team sports on the weekend, went to nice dinners, travelled in her free time and spent a lot of time with her friends doing various things she enjoyed. Alice didn’t think she wanted kids. She was waiting for the moment to kick in that everyone spoke about but she never felt the urge. Her boyfriend really wanted kids and they were starting to argue about it. She had told him at the start that she didn’t think she wanted kids and he thought that she would change her mind over time. He was now putting pressure on her to decide.
Tina had really healthy internal dialogue. When people told her she should want kids and might regret it later, Tina thought to herself that they were the odd ones wanting kids and she was happy with her choice. When family suggested that she might end up single and alone if she didn’t have kids with her boyfriend, her internal thinking was that they meant well but she knew what she wanted and it was the life she had set up for herself. She thought that if her relationship ended because of not wanting kids then she would be sad but she would be alright single too, she was capable of being alone and liked her own company.
Tina thought to herself that she had worked really hard to get to the top of her career and it gave her both pleasure and fulfilment. She didn’t want to change that and her thinking around that was that she was happy she had achieved her dream and wasn’t going to be swayed by others thinking she was wrong.
Tina went out with friends and if they didn’t want to go with her, she assumed they were busy or had something going on. She never once thought that she had done something wrong. She didn’t own anyone else’s behaviour. Tina was a really lovely person who often made kind gestures towards others, but she never once doubted that she was wrong in how she wanted to live her life. She was good at saying no to things she didn’t like. Including having children. She was living her authentic life and was very happy and content.
Alice didn’t need any guidance in counselling. She simply needed a blank canvas with no judgement for her to talk out loud her thinking around such a big decision.
How we speak to ourselves matters. It doesn’t always have to be positive. Sometimes we may need to give ourselves a kick along. But it has to be healthy. Our internal chatter impacts every area of our lives.
So, what is your internal dialogue like? Do you treat yourself as well as you treat others? Is your dialogue healthy?
If it isn’t, then chances are you aren’t living your authentic life. Make changes today and be you. It is the only person you can be and the one that you will be best at being.
As always, here if you need.