Odds are good that at some point in your adult life, you’ve talked to yourself — in your head, or even out loud. Some people do it regularly, and even find it helpful. But you might be wondering: is it normal to talk to yourself? Is it ever a good thing? Or a bad thing, even?
Is talking to yourself a sign of mental illness?
“It is very normal to talk to yourself and thus very common,” Dr. Laura F. Dabney, a psychotherapist based in Virginia Beach, VA, told HuffPost Canada in an email. It’s not a trait we necessarily outgrow, or a sign of mental illness, and it’s more common than you might realize.
“The truth is that we all talk to ourselves,” said Vironika Tugaleva, the author of The Art of Talking to Yourself, in an email to HuffPost Canada. It might look strange if you do it out loud in public, but we all have intricate multi-level conversations in our heads, Tugaleva said, as a way to give meaning to and explain to ourselves the things that happen during our days.
Think of everyday scenarios where you might talk to yourself. For example, as you’re leaving the house you might recite your essential items — keys, coat, bag, lunch — out loud to yourself as a checklist, Dabney said. Or on the way home from work, you might go over a stressful conversation you had with a boss, venting about it to yourself.
“It is not only normal, it’s crucial, and becoming aware of the quality of this inner discourse is a path to happiness and fulfillment,” Tugaleva said.
Talking to yourself can have benefits
Fostering a habit of having conversations with yourself can be both healthy and helpful, says Sheri McGregor, a life coach and the author of Done With The Crying.
McGregor works with parents dealing with estrangement from a child, but she said that talking to yourself in positive ways can help anyone going through a similarly tough time.
“I tell my clients and readers that talking to themselves in a caring manner can be a way to mother themselves,” she told HuffPost Canada via email. It’s a way to soothe yourself and focus on the positives instead of worries and stressors.
These hard times are when people often have conversations with themselves. For example, when trying to make a difficult decision in an emotional situation, or working to cope with strong emotions, said Itamar Shatz, a linguistics PhD candidate at U.K.’s Cambridge University, to HuffPost Canada.
Talk yourself through everyday problems
Talking to yourself can also function as a way to remind ourselves of things on our to-do lists, or as a means to deal with smaller or more situational problems, life coach McGregor said.
The next time you’re nervous about a presentation, have a conversation with yourself to go over your fears and present constructive solutions, or to remind yourself how prepared you are. Avoid self-talk that is sabotaging or allows you to spiral into your worries.
You can make this kind of talk more productive by using self-distancing methods where you refer to yourself in the second or third person, said Shatz, who has done research on the technique.
“For example, if you are anxious before giving a public presentation, instead of saying to yourself ‘why am I so nervous?’ you could say ‘why are you so nervous?’ or ‘why is Jane so nervous?,’” he explained.
“Research shows that doing this allows you to view the situation in a more emotionally-neutral manner, which improves your ability to cope with your emotions and make rational decisions.”
It’s OK to make talking to yourself a habit
In fact, talking to yourself is tied to mindfulness — a practice that is becoming increasingly popular.
“Mindfulness comes first because it brings awareness [to] not only one’s thoughts, but the words [people] mutter to themselves,” McGregor said.
During hard times, our minds can take us to dark places, which is why — just as with meditation — making positive self-talk a habit takes some work, but is a good practice to foster.
“Since there is no downside to self-talk, making it a habit is a good idea,” psychotherapist Dabney said. She suggested picking a time or place for self-talk, which can signal you to use it. Try using self-talk after a stressful event during your day, for instance, and seeing what does and doesn’t help you cope or feel better.
“You could make a mental note on its effectiveness or keep a journal for a week to take note on its effectiveness for you,” she said.
Is talking to yourself ever harmful?
Talking to yourself is often associated with mental illness, but that is rarely the reason for or cause of self-talk. However, there are some situations where self-talk may be an indication of a psychological problem.
When self-talk is accompanied by self-harm — for example, striking yourself or cutting — then it’s a sign of an emotional problem, Dabney said. As well, if you are engaging in self-talk that involves repetitive phrases, mantras or numbers, and this type of self-talk is disruptive to you or difficult to stop, that can be also be an indicator of an emotional problem. In either case, speak to a qualified medical professional for a proper assessment.
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