After Monicle’s recent comment (paraphrased here) that while I thought that the Universe needed to give me a break, I probably wasn’t expecting it in the form of a broken elbow, forearm and wrist. This reminded me of something I’ve known a while: language matters. And it matters in places we don’t necessarily think it would. Self-talk is one area where this is true. For decades I haven’t referred to myself as a victim of rape, but rather as someone who has experienced it. I try not to say, “I’m broke” when referring to money (although god knows my finances are broken right now).

In a group email from Michaela Chung’s group Introvert Spring, she reinforced this idea about choosing the words you use carefully, by discussing the use of the third person when talking to yourself about yourself. She didn’t mention it, but I will: Do this only when silently speaking to yourself. Referring to yourself in the third person while you are talking aloud with other people is just creepy and weird.

Say you’ve done something less than stellar. “I can’t believe I am such a stupid idiot,” might be something you’d say to yourself. (If you never would say such a thing to yourself, stop reading this because you are way too evolved for this post.) That might start producing anxiety such as, “I know the boss will hear about this, oh god, I’m so screwed, I’m freaking out…”. You (hopefully) would not say to a coworker, “I can’t believe you did that, what a stupid idiot you are. You should be freaking out now because once the boss hears then you are going to be so screwed. You should totally be worried.”

If you talk to yourself as if you’re another person, you are much more likely to go easy on yourself. I’ve been doing this for a long time and never really thought about it. When I use the first person, I’m much more likely to be mean to myself. Stupid, pathetic, useless, to name but a few derogative descriptions are more likely to be thought. If I use my name, the same phrases just don’t come as easily. “Em, I can’t believe you are such as stupid idiot!” just doesn’t happen. “Em, that wasn’t the best thing you’ve done, but you corrected it. . .” is more likely to be thought.

Michaela discussed using a term of endearment or pet name for yourself, like dear or honey, as if you were talking to a loved one. She uses the words sweetie and honey when she’s being kind to herself. I’ve been doing this for years too, although I refuse to admit what term I use to address myself! I never realized that the mean self-comments never happen when I do address myself this way until I read Michaela’s email.

Have you ever noticed that people often pay more attention to comments that come from other people? As if other people’s opinions are more important than our own? That’s another reason to use the third person when talking to yourself at times, because you may be more likely to heed the words. Honestly, me saying to myself, “Em, is that third cookie the best thing for you right now?” is more likely to result in me not wolfing down the whole plate of cookies than “I’m a pig if I eat that next cookie.”

According to the email, there are even some studies that have been done on this topic, and they confirm that we’re nicer to ourselves when we self-talk as if we are are other people. So go ahead, tell your inner pookie that things are going to be ok. Pookie will thank you.

3 Comments

  1. I’m glad I could give you a good laugh! (Monicle; you are hilarious!)
    Your post is so true. I lived with years of verbal abuse and even after leaving it took years to get those voices out of my head. I had to question my own thoughts; “You are not stupid!” “You are not lazy!”
    The program director at my volunteer gig tells me often that I’m awesome. Now I say it to myself “I’m awesome!”

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