Self-talk matters. What we say to ourselves influences our view of the world, the actions we take and the actions we don’t take, the quality of our relationships, whether we are happy or not, successful or not and so much more. We observe events. We interpret events.
We filter those events and process them through lenses known as our beliefs. Many of those beliefs came from others i.e. society, family and friends and many others. They also come from misinterpretations of experiences and events that happened a long time ago. Many are not logical and when scrutinized in the cold light of day (outside of your head)they do not hold up to logical reasoning and yet we let them become our reality. One reason for this is that many of our beliefs and interpretations were formed when we were very young. Our bodies may change and grow old, but sometimes our beliefs remain set in stone if we leave them unexamined. Too often we do not examine them even when they create havoc in our lives.
To summarize one more time: We observe events. We interpret and process events through our filters or beliefs. This is especially important since it creates our reality. Reality is highly subjective since each of us has beliefs that influence our interpretation of what happens to us and what we say to ourselves. The language we speak to ourselves is the most important of all as it constructs and reflects our reality.
Here is an example: Joe’s wife Penny tells him she is tired of him always leaving the toilet seat up at night. Penny says that every time she uses the potty at night, her posterior drops onto the cold hard porcelain. Penny has asked Joe many times not to leave the seat up, but Joe forgets. Penny believes that this is because Joe is an insensitive jerk and doesn’t listen to her or care that it upsets her. Joe is annoyed that Penny keeps finding fault with everything he does and sees her nagging as an attempt to control him. He will not allow anyone to do that. Penny and Joe are not speaking except in terse angry sound bites.
Observable Fact: Joe sometimes leaves the toilet seat up at night. He knows it bothers Penny, but he has trouble remembering when he’s half a sleep. (Self-talk: Joe wonders how he supposed to remember when he is half asleep. He wishes Penny were not such a nag.)
Observable Fact: Penny gets upset when Joe forgets and she receives a nasty middle of the night potty surprise. (Self-talk: Penny tells herself that Joe doesn’t care about her. Otherwise, he would not forget this and subject her to such discomfort.)
Observable Fact: Penny complains to Joe. (Self-talk – Penny tells herself if Joe really cared, he would make this effort, but he is an insensitive jerk. After all the things he has done for him, she tells herself, why can’t he do this small thing?)
Observable Fact: Joe rebuffs Penny’s complaint with anger and a few choice words. (Self-Talk – Feeling under attack, Joe tells himself it’s no big deal and Penny should put it down herself if it matters to her. She is not the boss of him and is always nagging him.)
Penny and Joe are at odds not so much because of the toilet seat, but because of their interpretation of events (including past events) and the meaning they have added to them. There is no conversation that is productive, just arguing and distance because each believes they have the facts. They are engaging in mindreading, projection and exaggeration. They use extreme words like every and always and never.
For Joe and Penny, reason has gone out the window and both are responding through highly charged emotional filters. The event itself is small; the interpretation each has made is big and can lead to the unraveling of a relationship. The events matter far less than what each party tells their self about the event. Penny believes that Joe does not care about her and if that is the case, she thinks to herself, she should leave him because she deserves better. Joe believes that Penny doesn’t think he can do anything right and secretly feels that he cannot. He tells himself that Penny is a hopeless nag and he would be better off finding someone else. If they split up, their future is predictable: Rinse, Lather, Repeat.
If each leaves the relationship without looking at the underlying dynamics, they will most likely jettison one partner for another and repeat the same sad pattern. Why? It is because the other person is not the problem, although we often shift the blame away from ourselves to support what we believe. When each minor conflict is processed through emotional filters both parties can avoid looking at the role they are playing in this drama.
I work with clients one on one and we work at separating facts from emotional fiction and unhelpful beliefs. This is how real sustainable change takes place. Several coaching slots are available for this important work. If you are interested in changing your self-defeating patterns, please contact me at psych-hacker.com for more information.