Do You Pay Attention to Your Inner Dialogue?

Portrait of an African American man leaning on hand. Thoughtful or dreaming male with braided dark hair in green T-shirt looking away, pouting lips. Contemplation concept.

In my last blog I invited readers to notice the extent to which they use You-messages versus the much healthier form of communication, I-messages. Shifting from You-messages to I-messages places the responsibility for whatever is being said on the speaker instead of being accusatory, attacking, or blaming the other person. When people use I-messages, there is less anger, conflict, and resistance to going deeper into whatever issues exist in the relationship.

I am now inviting you to shift gears and think about the conversations you have within yourself to yourself.  It turns out that we talk to ourselves a lot. An article on Health Line states that we have over 6000 thoughts per day. Other researchers give even higher numbers like the National Science Foundation that states that an average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day.   

Another article in Health Line states that “…humans have a tendency to give more importance to negative experiences than to positive or neutral experiences. This is called the negativity bias”. The website myneurogym states that “Of the daily thinking we do, a staggering 80% is contributed to negative thoughts. Even more astonishing is that 95% of thoughts are repeating themselves day after day.”  

According to an abstract from the journal, Science Direct, “Self-criticism involves constant and harsh self-scrutiny, overly critical evaluations of one’s own behavior, and negative reactions to perceived failures in terms of active self-bashing.”

The website Simply Psychology provides excellent information on an approach to understanding the dynamics of communication between people and communication within someone that is called Transactional Analysis. It was developed by Eric Berne, M.D. in the 1950s.

In Transactional Analysis, Eric Berne described two types of parent figures we have in our minds: a Nurturing Parent and a Critical Parent. The Nurturing Parent is the one who affirms us, congratulates us, is tender and caring towards us. Then there is the Critical Parent. It is important for us to have a way of identifying when we make mistakes or need to address issues that we are avoiding. Some of us have an internal Critical Parent who is highly judgmental, shaming, blaming and attacking. This can be the voice that says things to us like, “You really missed the boat on that one!” “You didn’t take your time and now things are a mess!” “You should be ashamed of yourself for not taking care of things before they got out of hand.”

On October 30, 2022 one of the segments on the TV show 60 Minutes focused on David Sudaris, a popular writer and storyteller. One of the things he talked about was how his father always said that he was a great big zero. I wonder what inner messages were created from hearing that repeatedly? I think there was probably a lot of self-condemnation, self-loathing, eternal blaming and shaming messages about his basic worthiness. I imagine in his internal self-talk he often transmitted critical You-messages: “You’ll never amount to anything,”” You really messed that up!” “You aren’t capable of making good decisions”.

Just to be able to speak in I-messages internally that still focus on taking appropriate responsibility is so much healthier! These are messages that don’t come from an inner voice that is harsh, critical and shaming. “I may have made some mistakes with that and I need to think of ways to repair them.”

Or “I wasn’t being as considerate as I needed to be when she told me that she needed more support than I had been giving.” Even to say, “I was a real jerk when I made fun of his brother” is better than the You- message, “You were a real jerk when you made fun of his brother.” Think of the difference between the internal statement, “You shouldn’t have eaten that chocolate chip cookie,” as compared to “I shouldn’t have eaten that chocolate chip cookie.”

Much of human communication and its impact can come down to nuances in the ways they are communicated. Giving yourself the same kindness and healthy messages transmitted when using I-messages in your own thinking processes can greatly impact your self-esteem and overall mental health.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Were you surprised to discover how many thoughts we have each day and how much we tend to focus on the negative thoughts?
  2. Does it make sense that ways of communicating within our minds deeply impacts our emotional health and well-being?
  3. Can you notice within your own thought processes how often you communicate to yourself using You-messages or using I-messages? Are you able to be kinder to yourself by using I-messages just as you can be kinder in your conversations with others by using them?

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute