Should you listen to the voices in your head? (DE Coast Press)

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? 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 simply to entertain, not help.

The expectation of getting yelled at comes from the mistaken idea that intimidation works 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 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 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. A therapist should be a voice of reason, by offering honest feedback. But that feedback can be proven or disproven by the client himself, based on evidence and logic.

For example, lots of people have problems with procrastinating. They can see no rational reason for why they put certain things off. 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 call this “self-talk,” generally defined as a dialogue that goes on inside your head when faced with conflict or life challenges. This aspect of yourself has a running commentary about everything you do. It might sound strange if you’ve never thought about it before, but all of us have a running commentary inside our heads. It’s simply the way the mind works, and it sets the tone of our moods, motivations and general mental state.

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 damages your self-esteem and undermines happiness. The point is to challenge these thoughts when you’re aware that you’re having them. As the news station touts, 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 antics to the TV “doctors.” Intimidation and negative self-talk is not the path to self-esteem.

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