You are what you tell yourself: the power of inner dialogue

Who I am
Robert Maurer

Author and references

We don't usually pay much attention to our internal dialogue, but the way we refer to ourselves determines our ability to deal with problems, conditions our decisions and the way we feel.

The conversations we have with ourselves define us, both in front of others and within us. The problems we are obsessed with and the words we choose end up shaping our reality - a reality that can be more or less limited and bleak depending on the course our self-affirmations take.

Of course, thinking that we will be able to take on a challenge is no guarantee of victory, but telling ourselves that we will not be successful is certainly a guarantee of failure. That is why it is worthwhile to turn the spotlight inward and start questioning our inner dialogue, especially if we are using limiting language and are sending each other harmful messages that can harm our mental health.

What is the inner dialogue?

The inner dialogue is our thoughts, that voice inside our head that comments on everything that happens to us without ever stopping, consciously or unconsciously.

We use the word "dialogue" and not "monologue" because our inner voice tends to exploit the ability of our mind to divide and imagine an interlocutor. In fact, according to the Dutch psychologist Hubert Hermans, our "I" is made up of a multiplicity of "positions towards ourselves" that have the possibility of communicating with each other by assuming a psychological distance.

How does inner dialogue recharge our emotional battery?

A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed the impact of self-affirmations, that inner dialogue that we continually maintain with ourselves. The researchers asked the participants to recall several significant experiences from their life. So some have had to focus on a particularly positive moment in these situations.

Neuroscientists have thus discovered that when we think about a pleasant and meaningful situation, areas related to reward are activated in our brain, something that does not happen when we think about insignificant situations or with a negative impact. This means that simply focusing on pleasant and meaningful experiences causes a positive change in brain functioning that can have huge repercussions on the way we deal with problems and on our life.

But the most interesting aspect of the experiment is that when the participants thought about pleasant future situations, the areas of the brain linked to the ego were activated, thus transforming themselves into a source of positive emotional energy. Therefore, if we are going through a bad time, instead of complaining about what we did wrong or thinking that we will never solve the problem, a more positive inner dialogue will allow us to recharge our emotional batteries.

In fact, everything seems to indicate that positive self-affirmations are indeed a way to prepare our brains to regulate the negative emotions we may experience when facing a situation that stresses us. By activating areas such as the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex, which are linked to the regulation of emotions and facilitate difficult choices, we are laying the foundations to better address the conflicts that lie ahead, researchers at Columbia University have discovered.

To protect ourselves from the harmful effects of adversity, we must activate a constructive internal dialogue

The dialogue we keep in our minds allows us to better address problems, find possible solutions and identify their consequences. When we go back several times to a situation that worries us, sometimes automatically, it is our mind that is trying to get out of the tangle in which we find ourselves. In fact, inner dialogue arises from the need to analyze what happens to us, to understand and make sense of our world, both interior and exterior.

Most of the time the inner dialogue moves away from its main function and ends up creating more problems than it solves, generating emotional malaise. This is why we must remain vigilant to ensure that our inner voice does not become a trap for ourselves, condemning ourselves to continually repeating unnecessary worries and denigrating self-affirmations that lead nowhere.

A positive inner dialogue, on the other hand, will allow us to use our psychological resources more efficiently to deal with threats. Psychologists at the University of California have found that channeling these self-affirmations constructively helps us counter the various pitfalls of automatic thinking that limit our cognitive resources. In other words, if we have a problem and focus only on obstacles and conflicts, our cognitive resources to resolve that situation are reduced and we will be trapped in a spiral of complaints and negativity.

Positive inner dialogue has the ability to broaden our perspective. By focusing on what we can solve or our resources, we are able to see beyond the problem and transcend the threat.

Positive self-affirmations also expand the image we have of ourselves, improving our self-esteem and self-confidence, so we will be able to see what happens to us in a more positive light and from an external perspective. Therefore, a positive inner dialogue acts as a kind of shield that protects our psychological well-being, even in the worst situations.

Somehow, and thanks to that inner voice, we learn not to drown in a glass of water in the face of problems and develop the confidence to keep ourselves afloat. We just have to remember the words of Epictetus: “It is not the events but our point of view regarding the events that is the determining factor. We should be more concerned with removing wrong thoughts from the mind than with removing abscesses and tumors from the body ”.

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