By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 26, 2017
I was thinking the other day about my history of talking to myself.
I’m not sure just how I picked up the habit, although I definitely was doing it in elementary school. My monologues were likely motivated by a variety of factors: I think at least one of my parents used to mutter to himself; it was surely something that characters did at least occasionally in the cartoons and TV shows that I watched; and it sort of mimicked the way that characters’ thoughts were often portrayed in the books I’d read.
At some point in high school or college, I realized that most other people perceived my talking to myself as a sign that I was mentally defective in some way. Since this was having the opposite of the intended effect — I fancied that talking to myself made me seem intelligent or important somehow — I made a conscious effort to cut back on these one-sided conversations.
I still do it, but not nearly as often as I once did. For the past several years, I’ve tended give myself short pep talks while showering. (I think I also sometimes do it when I’m playing Scrabble in person.) But what I realized recently was that the nature of these pep talks — or perhaps more accurately, the way I regard these pep talks — has changed.
Four or five years ago, I thought that talking to myself was stupid, even as I was doing it. But more recently, in therapy, I’ve been encouraged to hold conversations with myself, or at least different facets of myself. Often my adult self is prompted to engage with my inner child. Roll your eyes if you wish; certainly I did it a lot when first engaging in these exercises.
Over time, I’ve gradually come to accept these conversations as being useful. One reason is that I’ve slowly gotten more in touch with my emotions; another is that I’ve realized that this talking-to-myself business has the endorsement of a trained, experienced professional.
The pep talks haven’t necessarily changed a great deal, but I’m not simultaneously running myself down for having them. And that makes a difference.
It’s a small thing, true. But sometimes the small things — or to be precise, an accumulation of small things over time — make big differences.