Self-Talk

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Self-talk. Chances are you have been using self-talk since you were a child. As a matter of fact, developmental psychologists tells us that self-talk begins in middle childhood, ages 6 to 11-years-old (Arnett, 2013). Perhaps that is why many folks think that simply “talking to yourself” out loud is the same thing as self-talk. Children often “play out loud”, adding sound effects, conversations, and even lengthy monologue within imaginary play. This is not self-talk. Self-talk is really just your inner voice. It often reflects your conscious and unconscious thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions (Psych Central, 2015).

Self-talk CAN be out loud… don’t get me wrong. One of my favorite things to practically shout when I use self-talk, is “Girl? I REJECT THAT!” This is said out loud, with southern accent, hand on hip, and oozing with attitude.  (Are you picturing it? If you know me, you likely have even heard me say it).

Self-talk is also studied in Sport Psychology. As a matter of fact, if you do some searching online, many athletes have often used quotes that incorporate the use of self-talk. We ALL use self-talk, however. Whitbourne (2013), explained “Psychologists have identified one important type of these inner monologues as “self-talk,” in which you provide opinions and evaluations on what you’re doing as you’re doing it. You can think of self-talk as the inner voice equivalent of sports announcers commenting on a player’s successes or failures on the playing field” (para. 1).

This is why sometimes internally and oft-times out loud, we say, “Well. That was stupid”. As a matter of fact, much of our self-talk as adults is negative. Some of us may be parroting things we actually hear others say. However, most of the negative self-talk comes from the heart of pessimism and self-deprecation. Why? Why are we so hard on ourselves?

People who live with chronic illness, or invisible (or visible) disabilities often have negative self-talk. Statistics tell us we don’t really engage in negative self-talk more than adults who do not struggle with these issues, but perhaps the source is different. Frustration tends to be a significant source of negative self-talk for the differently-abled.

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Perhaps you are trying to discover how to do something independently. Maybe your are coming to terms with having to do something differently. Here are some things I have found helpful when I find frustration is spawning negative self-talk:

1. Identify it. Perhaps this is why the first phrase out of mouth is often “Girl? I REJECT THAT”. I identify that I am engaging in negative self-talk. See it (or hear it). Call it what it is. Now that you recognize it:

2. Change your spin on it. See if you can’t put a positive spin on it. Perhaps your self-talk has recognized something that you need to pay attention to but you need to say it like you are talking to your best friend. Be your own best friend. We wouldn’t say, “Geesh, that was dumb”. Try re-phrasing it. “Well I’m smarter than this. How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

A great example of this happened to me just last week. I took a really hard fall between my front door and the grass to “potty the dogs”. It was late, and pretty dark outside. I was in a hurry. My pillow was calling out to me and I wanted to reply face-to-face. I left the house without my cane. I was only walking 10 yards. What could happen?

I have 6 bruises and a small cut on my arm to show how wonderfully intelligent that choice was. So laying there in the grass with “mother earth” in my mouth, ear, and eyes, my first thought was:

“Dang. You are so graceful”.

Yeah. I speak fluent sarcasm.

My second thought was, “Geesh, that was stupid”. I’m a bit of a motor-mouth so I’m pretty sure the conversation went on a little longer, discussing how many brain cells I have, could I be any lazier for not taking 10 seconds to grab the cane?, and competing very hard to convince all living things listening that I deserve my title of Accident Prone Queen.

Because I’ve had so much practice at this, I immediately identified what was happening. Putting a new spin on it meant I could say, “Well this is why you should take 10 seconds to grab the cane!” Folks, I was WRONG to leave the house without my cane. But finding a middle-ground and re-phrasing the self-talk helped me be just a little more kind to myself. We need to take the time to be kind to ourselves.

3. Flexible expectations. No one knows you like YOU know you. If you have lived with invisible illness or disability for any length of time at all, you know what your own limitations are.

Unlike some of my cochlear implant friends, I still do not hear music very well, nor enjoy what I hear. My iTunes account could be deactivated. Does this mean music isn’t a part of my life? Absolutely not. I sing 80’s tunes at the top of my lungs when home alone.

Because of positional vertigo, I cannot use exercise equipment like the cross trainer (my husband’s favorite), stair-climber, or anything that moves my position vertically. Does this mean I cannot exercise? No. I can use a treadmill and I can walk. The latter I do twice a day.

The doctoral program I am in is designed to push you through in two years. I will be done in 3.5 years. And you know what? That is OK. This is the pace I can do successfully and complete my schooling. I can be flexible in my expectations!

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When all else fails, tell yourself to shut up. You may not say, “Girl? I REJECT THAT!”, but don’t be afraid to tell yourself to zip it. It may even be helpful to say it out loud. It works for me! In the end, you can actually work self-talk to your advantage. Learn to cheerlead yourself. Most of us look great with poms-poms.

Arnett, J. (2013). Developmental Psychology: A cultural approach (1st ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Psych Central (2015). Challenging negative self-talk. Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/challenging-negative-self-talk/

Whitbourne, S. K. (2013). Make your self-talk work for you. Psychology Today. Retrieved June 15, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201309/make-your-self-talk-work-you

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Your Thinker and the Trickle Down Effect

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Wednesday, March 19th

I had a “pep in my step”. I had a whistle on my lips. My heart was glad. I was walking my service dog and most of the snow was gone from the ground.

“What beautiful weather for a walk!” I thought to myself.

But then a squirrel scampered down off a tree trunk merely inches in front of my well-trained service dog’s nose. It all happened so fast.

The first jerk on the leash put my body in motion. You can’t fight the laws of science. I was going to be in motion until something stopped my motion since my brain went on instant vacay. Let me tell you I stuck the landing. Nearby Olympic judges all held up “10” placards. Cheers all around (or at least in my imagination).

I lay there on the pine-needle strewn ground for a minute trying to determine if anything was broken. The world was still spinning. I closed my eyes for a minute and choked back the nausea. Flipping to my back I felt a hound dog kiss on my face.

“Whew. Chloe is still here”, I thought.

I forced my brain to verify the leash was actually still in my hand. YUP! I opened my eyes and focused for a second. Chloe went into a down/stay on her own and rested her head on my shoulder. The weight of my ding-a-ling service dog’s head was a comfort.

I heard something! Another good sign. My cochlear implant was still attached to my head. I focused on the sound and looked up – Up – UP into the tree boughs above me and spotted that rascal squirrel.

Oh.

My.

Gosh.

He had the impudence to sit up there fussing – at US. I couldn’t help but laugh. He was ticked! I laughed all the way up until he skipped away… jerking the branch he was on and dumping snow on my face and chest from twenty feet up. My laughter stopped immediately. I was choking after all…

I sat up and brushed the snow off and started to giggle again. Chloe wagged her tail in delight. It seems she wasn’t going to get a “Denise sermon” after all. Within 10-15 seconds though I was overcome with a different emotion. I sat there crying. Not just silent tears – nooooooo. This was unladylike, deep sobs with intermittent hiccups!

I sat there bawling my eyes out for five or six minutes, comforted by a hound dog most certainly sorry her instincts caused another “Timber…” moment for me.

Yes. I could see the funny. But fast on the heels of the laughter and positive attitude came an emotion near the surface most days. Self-pity. Sorrow. I hate my life.

Is Happiness a Choice?

One of my favorite books is “Happiness is a Choice” by Minirth and Meier. The premise of the book is that especially for those of us living with depression, happiness is a choice. The book’s number one principle is: “Change the way you talk to yourself”.

I’m on board with that. Really!

I am!

You can change some of the negative aspects of your thinking by challenging the irrational parts and replacing them with more reasonable thoughts” (Martin, 2010, para. 4). Whitbourne (2013) explained these, “inner monologues as “self-talk,” in which you provide opinions and evaluations on what you’re doing as you’re doing it. You can think of self-talk as the inner voice equivalent of sports announcers commenting on a player’s successes or failures on the playing field” (para. 1). I believe in the power of self-talk. I believe our “thinker” really can influence our behavior. My husband is a cognitive psychologist. He and I have a lot of discussions as I work on my own Ph.D. about the best ways to change behavior. He – and other professionals like him – believe that if you can simply change what your thinker is thinking, there will be a trickle down effect. It will influence and possibly change behaviors you wish to change. There is a lot of scholarly research and science to support this.

I believe this! I do! But I will be honest for a moment. There are times I want to just say…

SCREW SCIENCE

That’s right. Just in case you even needed MY – or ANYONE’s permission…

It is OK to be upset about the reality of your life.

Living with acquired disability sucks. Hearing loss sucks. Meniere’s disease sucks. How about you? Fill in the blank:

_____________________ SUCKS.

*Deep Cleansing Breath*

I’ve tried to explain to folks who ask, that living with a chronic condition or acquired disability is – on the best of days – HARD.

I still get the flu.

I have still lost people I love and miss them.

I have lost beloved pets.

I get headaches, body aches, and am growing older.

I get mad at my family sometimes.

I experience car problems.

I hate traffic.

I have unexpected bills.

I still have a period (hey! Jus’ layin’ it all out there! <BIG GRIN>)

All of these things happen to me just like they happen to you. Only folks with chronic illness or acquired disability have those things happen on top of what – for them, is the norm… living with challenges daily.

Yeah, yeah. I know!

I still get the flu   I can be thankful I have medicine to help and a hound dog to cuddle with. See? I can see the positive!

I have still lost people I love and miss them  I can be thankful I will see them again someday based on my personal faith beliefs and worldview.

I have lost beloved pets  I have other furry family members and that makes me happy.

I get headaches, body aches, and am growing older  Beats the alternative. Right? 

I get mad at my family sometimes   But I have a family…

I experience car problems.  But I have a car and this time we could afford the “fix”.

I hate traffic.  I have a job to go to.

I have unexpected bills.  But I’m smart enough to figure out how to pay that bill or arrange payments.

I still have a period Yeah. I got nuthin… (LOL)

So can my forced “change thinking” have a trickle down effect and influence my behavior, feelings, and perceptions? Yes.

And no.

Confused? I don’t mean to be the cause of a “What the heck you talkin’ about, Denise?” thoughts.

However, it is important – at least I think it is – to allow yourself to have moments of self-pity. Feel the sorrow. Rail at God. Write “My Life Can Suck” really big and pin it to a wall and throw darts at it. If it makes you feel better, do it. I think it is healthy to “own your feelings” about the reality of your life. It’s hard. You may feel alone. You may want to give up. It’s OK to feel that way.

But then? (Brace yourself…)

Change your thinker. Allow it to do what studies have shown actually works. The “Trickle Down Effect”. I’m here to tell you though that it isn’t a long-term fix. You may have to “adjust the knobs on your thinker” daily. Maybe on REEEEEALLY bad days – hourly!

Do you know what thoughts help me the most?

Keep on keeping on.

I can make a difference in the life of another.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Mean People Suck. (Sorry. That’s my favorite bumper sticker and I *had* to throw it in there).

Yup. They are platitudes. “Feel good self-talk”. But ya know something? It works for me because I also allow myself the freedom to sit in the pine-needles with snow covering my shoulders and bawl my eyes out.

So strive to improve your self-talk. But feel free to wail.

{{{{{{{{{CYBER HUG}}}}}}}}}}}} from me to you!

Denise Portis

©2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Martin, B. (2010). Challenging Negative Self-Talk. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/challenging-negative-self-talk/0003196

Whitbourne, S. K. (2013). Make Your Self-Talk Work for You. Psychology Today. Retrieved on March 21, 2014, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201309/make-your-self-talk-work-you