I’ve been reflecting on the topic of negative self-talk, becoming more aware of how limiting it can be in countless areas of life. Though uncertain about what source(s) these cognitions spring from (internal? external? historical? present?), I’ve been asking the behavioral question, “How does one overcome such seemingly powerful, often deep-rooted messages?”
One simple, straightforward response I’ve received: “Eject the tapes.” Many of us are so accustomed to the background hum of criticism, doubt, and anxiety that we fail to even notice the noise. It’s like a classic cassette programmed to play on a loop. It’s like the oxygen we breathe – we’re surrounded by it, but are rarely consciously aware of its presence. At times the negativity gains strength and becomes recognizable — those are the moments to press eject, and then insert a new tape. One that’s encouraging and hopeful and life-giving. Many people – myself included – often find this very simple action very difficult to do, perhaps because it takes time and intentional effort to reprogram. Isn’t there a quicker, easier fix?
There may be. This week I came across an article entitled How electrical brain stimulation can change the way we think, and its opening line — “Have you ever wanted to take a vacation from your own head?” — immediately drew me in. Um, yes. The author, Sally Adee, went on to write, “What if you could take a very specific vacation only from the stuff that makes it painful to be you: the sneering inner monologue that insists you’re not capable enough or smart enough or pretty enough, or whatever hideous narrative rides you.”
A brief overview of the piece: Adee tells the story of her encounter with the newly developed “transcranial direct current stimulation” (tDCS), describing how for the 20 minutes she was “hooked up”, all the self-defeating voices in her head “shut up.” Adee came to understand in a hopefully life-changing way how she truly is her own worse enemy. Fascinating.
Shortly after reading her story, which approached self-talk from a scientific standpoint, I finished Posers, Fakers & Wannabes by Brennan Manning, a rich book addressing the same issue from a spiritual angle. In a section entitled “We Grow Tender,” Manning tells of a time he was preparing to lead a retreat and was plagued with self-doubt and self-deprecation. He pulled back into a time of solitude with the Divine and later emerged with a sense of direction: Live in the wisdom of accepted tenderness. Manning writes,
Tenderness comes alive when we know someone we care about is just knocked-out-crazy about us. Just knowing that person is in the room gives us a strong sense of safety and courage…We become more open, real, vulnerable, and genuinely affectionate. We grow tender.