How you communicate to others matters.
How you communicate to yourself very much matters.
We’re communicating all the time, both to ourselves and to others. We don’t even need to be talking. Our expressions, our body language, the background noise going on in our heads, our choices. They all communicate to us and to the people around us who we are, what we’re all about, what’s important to us, what reality is all about to us.
The problem is, the vast majority of our communication, we don’t think all that much about.
Sure, we think about some aspects of our communication, especially to others. We agonize over how to word emails and rehearse how to say certain things to certain people. Many of us spend an awful lot of time thinking, maybe even obsessing, about the impression we’re making on others.
Many of us spend more time than we’d like to admit crafting social media posts.
But that communication that we pay so much attention to is rarely the communication that is most important.
Most people pay precious little attention to the communication that happens inside our heads— to ourselves, from ourselves.
Which is a shame, because it’s that communication— the communication that is received, processed, and invested in by an audience of one— that overwhelmingly has the greatest impact on our lives.
What comprises the communication that happens inside our heads? The communication that we transmit from ourselves, to ourselves?
When events happen in our lives, from the mundane to the profound, we are tasked with deciding what those events mean.
We have to figure out what the events of our lives imply, and how we’re expected to respond. This can only happen with dialogue within our own noggins.
Think of your internal communication as a constant stream of questions and answers going back and forth within your own head— and the vast majority of this back-and-forth happens outside of our awareness.
“What does this mean? How should I respond? What is needed here? What are the implications of this? What do I need relative to this?”
Our brains are essentially designed as question asking-and-answering machines. It’s literally how we think: we ask and answer questions of ourselves, all day every day. We communicate with ourselves all day, every day, whether we know it or not.
Where does our brain get its answers from, then?
Our brain searches for answers to the never-ending stream of questions in the past.
Our brain searches for answers in our beliefs.
Our brain searches for answers by consulting what it believes to be true about others who share our values systems or backgrounds.
All of which is to say: if we’ve been hurt by trauma in our pasts; if our beliefs are distorted by depression or anxiety; if we have an over-reliance on the thoughts and opinions and judgements of others…the answers that our brains furnish us won’t be the highest quality.
The answers our brains give us to these important questions will be tainted, contaminated, an distorted by the biases, inaccuracies, and pathologies of the material our brains consult in order to communicate answers to our questions.
Do you begin to see why it’s so important that we take conscious control of how we talk to ourselves— and how we talk back?
Almost every form of empirically validated psychotherapy, from cognitive therapy to psychoanalysis, depends heavily on us becoming aware of our internal communication and learning to direct it in ways that are congruent with our health, goals, and values.
One of the few relatively original contributions I’ve made to the art and science of therapy is a method of internal communication among dissociative self-states in people who have been badly traumatized. My method hinges on acknowledging, honoring, and working with parts of ourselves that have been alienated and that “hold” various feelings and memories. Only later did I realize that this is a very necessary skill for everyone to develop, regardless of their trauma history.
It’s really, really hard to build a quality life without quality internal communication.
The good news is: becoming aware of how we talk to ourselves is a skill that is very learnable.
As with most communication, getting better at internal communication starts with listening.
I know, easier said than done.
But super, super important to do.
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