Rose Murrin, LICSW
Have you ever been caught speaking out loud to yourself? Most of us have. Some of us laugh at ourselves, make jokes about "losing it," generally try to brush it aside. Others are apologetic. Some just roll with it. But it can feel exposing to be caught talking to ourselves. Why? To put it simply, our private inner thoughts have been observed. While this is not necessarily bad, it can take us by surprise.
Having an internal dialogue is a common experience. We think and often, those thoughts are directed at ourselves, our surroundings, even the thoughts themselves. This inner voice expresses our points of view, positive or negative. It is an important tool in figuring out what we do and don't want to engage with in our world.
When I sit and talk with people, these thoughts come up frequently as they can profoundly impact our experiences. They are also quite telling about the world view from which we operate. This can be particularly important if there is a theme that isn't working. For example, a person might have a frequent thought, "I always mess things up." Each time a failure is experienced, this thought crops up. It might even get said aloud. These inner themes are common, but they can cast our world in absolutes. In reality, our experiences are rarely so black and white. There are often many facets of a thing we are trying to accomplish. For example, if one is making dinner, one might make a pasta dish, a salad, a dessert. Each of these will require multiple steps- some will go better than others. Perhaps veggies get chopped efficiently and the pasta is perfectly timed. Perhaps the pasta sauce is too runny and the dessert gets overcooked. If the overarching, natural response is, "I always mess things up," one will look at the meal as a failure which is consistent with one's overall experiences of one's efforts. On the other hand, if the person's inner dialogue tends toward the positive, "I like to try new things," they may see the success of the pasta texture, the time saved chopping vegetables in a new way. They may even approach the less successful elements with a curious mind- observing that the sauce might thicken better with the lid off or that their oven cooks faster than recipes generally require. The more positive outlook allows for an expectation of improvement with future efforts. It allows for the perception of success.
This is all fine and good, but if you are a person whose thoughts tend toward the negative, what are you supposed to do? There are many ways to address negative inner dialogue, but a simple one to begin with is to try matching a negative with a positive. So, in the dinner example, if one notices the thought, "I always mess things up," one might then actively choose to find a positive thing to say to oneself as well- "I enjoyed trying out this new recipe" or "I made a pretty good salad." Over time, as you get better at recognizing the negative thoughts and matching them with a positive one, you might up it to two positives for each negative. Much like the muscles in our arms, our minds can strengthen in new ways with exercise. In the beginning, it can feel awkward and unnatural, but with practice, it can become a part of your inner experience. If you want support in this practice, you can reach out to friends, family, a therapist, or your Kesher social worker. This simple practice can really begin to shift your experience of your life and world. While you will probably continue to talk to yourself, you may begin to enjoy what you hear!
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Amy Small, LICSW, is the new Kesher social worker at the synagogue. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Am David, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Sholom. Amy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or