Should you listen to the voices in your head?

During counseling sessions, people sometimes say that they expected me to yell at them. Do I look THAT mean in the picture on this page? That notwithstanding, I wonder what would give rise to such an expectation, other than the proliferation of TV and radio “therapists” like Drs. Phil, Laura and the rest, whose mission is to entertain, not privately help an individual.

Apparently the expectation of getting ‘yelled at’ comes from the mistaken idea that intimidation works better than reason. Intimidation does NOT work better than reason. Reason is the only method of coping, acquiring knowledge, and surviving. Reason (from a helping professional) means, in practice: “Here’s what’s wrong with your logic. Here are some facts you’re leaving out. There’s a central premise behind what you’re saying, feeling or doing, and here’s where I think it’s steering you wrong.”

Yes, some people are unreasonable, and perhaps nobody is reasonable all of the time. But what else is there but logic and facts as a way of persuading yourself or others to truly change? If you say, ‘I don’t want to go by reason, logic and facts. I want something else,’ then what else is there? Well, there’s emotion. But emotions are nothing more than thoughts in a different form. When you feel something, you’re actually thinking something, though you might not be aware of it at the moment. For example, let’s say you’re really angry. If you ask yourself WHY you’re angry, you might not immediately know the answer. But you’re still thinking that something wrong or unjust has taken place. Maybe there’s a basis for it and maybe there’s not, but, either way, you’re holding that assumption at the time you feel it.

A therapist or qualified life coach should be a voice of reason, giving honest feedback. But that feedback can be proved or disproved by the client himself, based on evidence and logic. This doesn’t mean yelling, but it doesn’t mean being particularly nice, either. People in pain, trouble or contradiction always need (and usually want) the truth. Though the truth can sometimes hurt, it need not be shouted. Reason will do just fine.

What I’m saying about professional counseling really applies to anyone trying to offer help to someone. More than that, it applies to your relationship with yourself. If you think the most useful way to get things done is to be nasty or intimidating to yourself, you’re wrong. For example, lots of people have problems with procrastinating. They can see no rational reason for why they put certain things off, even simple things that they know are important. It seems to me that some people in this predicament are rebelling against themselves and don’t even know it. For years, they have motivated themselves with harsh judgments and internalized ‘yelling’ and—not surprisingly—their psyches finally go on strike. Think about it. If you worked for someone who was arbitrary and nasty, wouldn’t you eventually want to go on strike, or quit? It’s the same with yourself.

Experts sometimes call this ‘self-talk.’ defines self-talk as ‘the dialogue that goes on inside your head when faced with conflict or life challenges or even simple day-to-day concerns. This aspect of yourself has a running commentary about everything you do. It never lets anything go by without some comment, remark or evaluation.’

It might sound strange if you’ve never thought about it before, but all of us have a ‘running commentary’ or dialogue inside our heads whether we know it or not. It’s not magic, but simply the way the mind works. This commentary tends to set the tone of our moods, motivations and general mental state.

The website goes on to say, ‘You’ll recognize these thoughts because you have heard them all your life: I’m not smart enough, something is wrong, I can’t do it, I never finish anything, this is too hard, change takes too long, etc. You may have initially formed these negative ideas about yourself from things you heard from a parent, teacher or someone who was in authority over you, or they were decisions you made in reaction to some event. Now, as an adult you have incorporated them into your own personality. In effect you don’t need those people to tell you what to do anymore, they are living inside your own head!’ Precisely right.Self-talk along the lines of, ‘I’m not good, I never do anything right, I’m so stupid’ might make for good reality television, but it’s no way to run your mind. It does damage to your self-esteem and motivation, and it undermines happiness.

The point is to challenge these thoughts when you’re aware that you’re having them. As the news station says, be ‘fair and balanced.’ That doesn’t mean making excuses, but you shouldn’t let your mind focus on only one side of the story either. Yes, you’ve made mistakes and you have your weaknesses. But surviving your mistakes is a strength in itself. Good self-talk doesn’t mean lying to yourself and building up phony self-esteem, but it does mean seeing what’s around you in a reasonable and accurate way. Leave the hard-nosed bullying to the TV ‘doctors.’ Intimidation and negative self-talk is not the path to self-esteem.