It was Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor-philosopher who said, “All is as thinking makes it so.” What he meant was because we react to life’s events through the use of our five senses, the way we perceive anything is predicated on how we think about it. In other words, the things we tell ourselves greatly influences how we feel about them. For example, if we have been hurt in a relationship, how we react to the hurt will either help or hinder us in coping with it. We can either dwell on the pain or shake it loose from our minds and focus on something positive such as our friends, family, new relationships and new experiences. It all depends on how we perceive the event and how we react to it. We do this through self-talk, those silent conversations we have with our mind.
Often times our self –talk reinforces the feeling we are experiencing; it can be negative or positive, but never neutral. For most people, negative self-talk reinforces pain, depression, and anxiety. A woman looks in a mirror and sees a few lines on her face and then tells herself she is growing old. After a while she begins to feel old, not having the energy or desire to do anything. A man has been passed over for promotion and consistently tells himself it was because the other guy knew someone in high places. If that man continuously blames others for his problems, he will go through life not taking responsibility for his actions, telling himself that it wasn’t his fault instead of focusing on the things he could do better.
Up-beat self-talk can give one the confidence, security, and the sense of well being necessary in dealing with the ordinary stresses of our lives. It was the framework of positive thinking popularized by Norman Vincent Peale in the early fifties. But, it can be negative as well and is widely recognized in cognitive psychology as a crucial component of pessimistic, or negative, thinking. If someone constantly tells themselves they are boring or unlovable, eventually that self- talk seeps into the unconscious mind and, without us even being aware of it, we behave the way our mind is now conditioned to tell us how to behave. One way that the unconscious mind reminds us of these negative thoughts and feelings is through our dreams which reflect those thoughts, albeit in a symbolic manner.
A client, who was depressed and anxious, once told me he was having recurring dreams of flying, like a bird, above the city in which he lived. Upon questioning he revealed his feelings of being trapped in his job that was highly stressful. He kept telling himself over and over again how trapped he was until the idea of not being able to escape became overwhelming and he would dream of actually escaping by flying away. It was the powerful messages he kept giving himself of being caught in a trap that finally made him behave as if he was, indeed, caught in a self made trap. Once we identified the problem it was easy to develop a plan which entailed finding a different job that would suit his talents and be rewarding, as well. The important lesson we can learn is that the self-talk that we engage in during most of our waking hours can, and does, strongly influence our emotions and our ways of perceiving life’s events. We should avoid all kinds of negative self-talk and keep reminding ourselves that we may not be able to change the situation, but we can change the way we think about it.