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«Help with Negative Self–talk Volume I», Steve Andreas

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"Your task is that of altering, not abolishing."

—Milton H. Erickson, the greatest therapist who ever lived.


Nearly everyone has negative internal self–talk at times; some of us have this internal chatter going on almost all the time. An internal voice may remind us of past failures, sorrows, or disappointments, torture us with criticism or verbal abuse, describe frightening or unpleasant futures, or distur b us in other ways. "You failed miserably" "What a loser I am." "I'll never succeed." "Life is a crock." "My life is over." Typically this kind of internal voice causes unpleasant feelings, which are not very helpful in reaching goals and succeeding in life. You can probably easily think of some time in your life when an internal voice did this, putting you into an unpleasant state. These bad feelings can be the root cause of a very wide variety of problems, some of them quite serious and long–term. In this book we're going to show how these inner voices can be transformed, and the positive impact that can make in many areas of our lives.

"Nothing I can do will make a difference" in a low, slow voice can easily result in depression. "I'm think I'm about to die" in a rapid, high–pitched tempo can result in anxiety or panic. "Those bastards are out to kill me," in a low angry tone can result in violence or paranoia. Often someone's unpleasant feelings are so strong that they don't notice that they are in response to what an internal voice is saying.

The realization that everyone hears internal voices is relatively recent. Not so long ago, most psychiatrists thought that hearing voices was a sign of psychosis, and a few still do. A patient would report hearing voices, and the psychiatrist would say to himself internally, "Hmmn, this guy is hearing voices; he must be nuts," without realizing that he was also hearing a voice, and without — in most cases — being nuts himself!

The voices of some psychotic patients may sound much louder than what the rest of us hear, and sometimes they may seem to be external to them, but we all hear internal voices. In even earlier times, hearing an internal voice was thought to be a message from God, the devil, or some other external entity. Even today some people who commit crimes say that they were ordered to do it by a voice that they heard. "The devil made me do it."

Hearing internal voices is a natural part of being able to understand and produce language. With the exception of a few people with damage to the language area of the brain, we all have internal voices, and usually they provide very useful information and direction. These voices may orient us to tasks that we need to accomplish, alert us to some kind of danger, review the events of the day, etc. "There's an important meeting tomorrow morning." "Let's get out of here before the trouble starts." "I got quite a lot done this week."

Sometimes inner voices offer us useful advice. "Look both ways before crossing a street," is a voice that most parents deliberately try to instill in their small children in order to protect them from being run over. At other times, an internal voice may simply offer information that is needed to solve a problem, or direct our attention to get back to an unfinished task. "I wonder if those towels are in the laundry." "I'd better get going on that homework if I'm going to get enough sleep tonight."

Infants begin to learn language by listening to parents and other people around them. The first step in this learning process is to remember the sounds that they heard, and slowly begin to recognize repetitions of those sounds and patterns of sounds. As they are doing this, they are also learning to produce sounds, first by babbling, and then gradually adjusting that babbling to approximate the sounds of the language that they are exposed to. Initially both the sounds that they hear, and the sounds that they are learning to produce have no meaning. They are just learning to recognize and produce the sounds of their native language.

The child's next task is to divide the flow of language into separate words, and then to understand what the words mean by connecting them with recurring events. Just as in learning a foreign language, we begin to understand the meaning of what someone else is saying long before we are able to put words together into a reply. These internal voices that we remember are the basis for learning how to produce language and communicate with others around us. Much later we learn to recognize written words so that we can translate little squiggles on pages into the sounds of language, and understand books like the one you are reading. If we had no internal voices, we would not be able to understand the words that others say to us, and we would not be able to communicate with words. We would be forever limited to the nonverbal noises, gestures, and movements that we had as infants.

As we learned the particular words and grammar of the language of our parents, caretakers, or others around us, we also learned all the nonverbal musical sounds of their language — the volume, tempo, rhythm, timbre, intonation, hesitation, regional accent, emotional inflection, etc.

For instance, when you hear the voice of a stranger, you can determine with close to 100% accuracy if they are male or female, using these tonal cues — even though you may have no idea what aspects of tonality you are using to do this. And when you answer the phone, usually you can identify who it is by their tonality after hearing only a few words.

Pause right now to remember and listen to the voices of several people you know. Recall them one at a time, and hear the distinct tonality that each one uses. First recall the voice of one of your parents, …

(Three dots […] indicates a pause for you to actually do the instruction, and notice what you experience. You will only really learn from this book if you pause for a few moments to try each little experiment.)

Now hear the voice of your other parent, …

And then recall the voices of several other important people in your past, …

And then some good friends of yours in the present… .

Notice how each voice has a distinct tonality. Unless you are musically trained, it might be very hard for you to describe exactly how those voices differ, but you can still hear the differences clearly. Now listen to each voice that you just heard, in turn, and notice how your feelings change in response to each voice… .

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