Does my “inner chatter” stress me by seeking to justify what I think, feel and do?
Contribution by Isabel Hernández Negrín, Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain.
Quite recently scientists have been studying the nature of this inner chatter or dialogue that every human being maintains. It is still not clear what function it fulfils. However, we all have our own experience of it. There are those who simply experience it as a noise that goes on in the background while they do other things, while others experience it when involuntary thoughts set in and repeat arguments that sometimes leaving behind an aftertaste of unpleasant emotions and physical and mental tensions that can even lead to suffering some kind of pathology because of the profound anxiety they cause. This inner activity is what we call daydreaming, dreaming while we are awake, wandering, “catching flies” etc. The truth is that this always occurs whenever we stop doing a task that requires our voluntary and focussed attention in order to perform some kind of activity that is normally external, like planning out our day, our week’s work, doing something complicated that requires expertise…In other words, nearly all day. Think of yourself, if you do not believe it. See how much time throughout the day you spend in wandering and how much time you spend consciously paying attention to a task or to a thought that is voluntary or directed towards a particular objective. Look right now at how many times you wander (become distracted) while you read this brief commentary. Have you noticed what kind of thoughts arise? I invite you to do it and, what is more, to take note, every few hours, of the thoughts that you remember having had. And also to observe what they were and your arguments, if they are about you or about others, if they are justifications or reaffirmations about what you have thought or about what you felt or about how you behaved in a situation. Observe the emotions you feel and how they affect your body. It may also be that you are brooding over a concern, or how to act in a future situation, or perhaps you blame yourself for something you did or did not do correctly, or about memories of situations in which you felt good or bad. At other times it is just about simple associations: I see a person dressed in a certain way and it reminds me of my father, and from there I leap to thoughts of him and I relive things that I experienced with him. It appears that we prepare ourselves to provide responses to our worries, or rather, our fears or pain. It seems that we do not tend to brood over things that do not concern us. We brood over offences, humiliations, negative feelings, powerlessness, our annoyances or that of others, discussions we had, etc. However, this inner chatter has the characteristic of being involuntary and recurrent and leaves us in a state of anxiety, because it just anticipates or brings back memories of negative episodes without offering a real solution that will satisfy us. This inner chatter also serves to reinforce our views and these are not always appropriate for resolving our conflicts peacefully. They do not bring a fresh perspective, they are not creative; they are always more of the same. I invite you to observe this throughout the day. If you observe this in you when it is happening you will be able to learn a lot about yourself. You will see what encourages the thoughts to arise and gradually you will be able to deal with the situations and your moods in a way that is freer of the fears and emotions that provoke them. Often what we experience in a negative way, has more to do us than with the situation itself. Try to resolve honestly what appears before you at every moment. How? First and foremost, by paying attention, being aware of whether, when faced with a situation, you are feeling subtly threatened and are on the point of reacting out of fear, shyness, anger or feeling offended and then relax and let the sensation or emotion pass calmly and behave kindly towards yourself and what is before you.
Choose a conscious action and not to defend or justify yourself. Always choose a coherent response. Sometimes it may be saying “No”, sometimes by putting yourself in a situation that you would normally avoid, perhaps by really listening without reacting impulsively to what people tell you…If you choose the response that you feel is coherent and peaceful (this does not mean resigned) and honest to you, then you will probably not then build up thoughts about the situation, although this may be difficult for you.
You will not continue to cling to and be identified by what you have experienced. Do it and repeat it over time.
You will just regain your sense of self-worth, the freedom to act in a conscious and creative way.