Self Talk: The Story We Tell Ourselves
Do you have a problem talking to yourself? Actually that is not a problem at all. It is normal and good. The problem comes down to this: What are we telling ourselves?
The story we constantly tell ourselves, the one we call “me,” has consequences. Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly talking to ourselves. If you do not think so, consider the many imaginary arguments you have had in the car or the shower with someone who has upset you.
But no worries, you are no crazier than anyone else. In fact you are not crazy at all; talking to self is entirely normal. In the clinical world of counseling and therapy it has a name; it is called self talk. If our pattern tends toward positive self talk, it will yield good fruit; if it is negative self talk, it will yield poor fruit.
Our internal conversations are a perpetual rehearsal of who we think ourselves to be. We say things like “Oh there you go again Judy! You are such a screw up!” Or, “Stop embarrassing yourself Tom—nobody cares what you have to say anyway!” Or “You shouldn’t have come here Dan. You know nobody likes you.” This is how we involuntarily embrace and reinforce a self-destructive life story.
I believe our self talk is the foundation of the intimate prayer life. Our internal conversation is the natural impulse of the heart reaching for God.
If our self talk was our heart reaching for God before mankind’s fall into sin (Genesis 3), it has now been hijacked by sin. This conversation is no longer a peaceful dialogue between man and his creator. Our self-talk often resembles a somewhat bipolar oscillation between self-praise and self-loathing.
At an early age we begin gaining self-awareness. It is perpetually discovered through our experiences with people and the world around us. This collection of experiences begins to shape our personal story, what we call our identity.
When a potter throws clay on a wheel, she exerts different levels of pressure to form the resulting vessel. Like a potter, our experiences have a similar affect in deciding the shape of our story and identity. If we have bad experiences, these will have a destructive effect on how we see ourselves. In the same way, positive ones can have a positive effect and so on. Sadly, in a fallen world, harsh experiences leave some of the deepest and ugliest impressions in the soft clay of our lives.
Just like clay, as time passes, it dries and hardens leaving these ugly wounds to petrify. What was a bad experience becomes a scar. These marks are revealed when it is time to tell our story.
Most of us suffer in silence. We struggle with low self-image, low self-worth, feelings of being ugly, being unwanted, and feeling that we always fall short. We all deal with this in different ways; some of us are weighed down by it, and some even paralyzed. Others push it down deep expending their emotional energy suppressing and overcompensating for it.
Few of us have experienced what it means to simply be accepted with all our warts, scars, and secret shame. But there is someone who does. There is someone who will accept you even when you fail to perform—someone who will love you even when you are not pretty or fantastic.
His name is Christ. In the Gospels, he stepped into history to rewrite that tragedy that makes up our personal stories. The good news of the Kingdom is His-story. He wants to make it your story.
Training Fleas & Rehearsing Our Story
Animals can be trained to limit themselves in a way they will never recover from. Elephants in captivity are initially restrained with a massive chain. In a short time that chain can be replaced with a mere hemp rope. The elephant could snap it at any moment, but it won’t because it no longer thinks it can.
Fleas too can jump incredibly high in proportion to their size. However after being trapped in a container for an extended time, they will eventually not jump any higher than the container—it literally “contains” them mentally.
Sadly, we typically allow our story to life-limit us. Without even realizing it, we are constantly reinforcing this through negative and destructive self-talk. We become our primary emotional captor like the elephant and the flea. Yet armed with the Gospel of God’s grace, we can change.
What About Your Self Talk?
What is your self talk like? Are you aware of it? Does it look at all like God’s opinion of you? Here are three steps in learning to develop positive Gospel-centered self talk_
1. Gain awareness of internal patterns of self talk to begin to understand it — Most of our self talk is involuntary and impulse driven. We need to make a concerted effort to practice awareness of the internal conversation processes within.
2. Ground our new story in something positive and transcendent — The ultimate positive of the Good news of the Gospel. The transcendent is God. Our typical internal self talk is usually driven both by what we do, and what other people do to us, or how they define us. This means we typically allow ourselves to be defined by our own works and the works of others (Romans 3:20 & 4:4). But our salvation, according to Paul, is not defined by what we do or other people say or do to us (Romans 11:16 & Galatians 2:16). This sets us up for failure. Our salvation needs to be rooted in something that will not fail us, the perfect works and opinion of God toward us as dear children.
3. Practice Gospel-centered self-talk — God as revealed in Christ is that new unwavering and transcendent reality. Our growth in the Gospel is driven by spiritual disciplines, namely telling a new story. This begins in joining a local community of faith. There we engage in a new conversation centered on the person and work of Christ. And this is developed in the hearing/study of the word of God and the liturgy of the sacraments. It is through these means of grace we begin to make the Gospel story our own.
What do you think? Please comment and share!
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