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Talking to Myself - Is That Normal?

Talking to yourself again?  Savvy Psychologist, Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, assures you’re not going crazy. You’re simply thinking out loud, which is not only normal, but beneficial.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
January 23, 2014
Episode #003

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How to Make Private Speech Work for You

So how does this translate to real life?  Allow me to offer not only reassurance that talking to yourself is permissible, but also a few strategies to make it work for you.

  1. I see what you’re saying.  Next time you’re searching the supermarket shelves, name what you’re looking for.  A 2012 study found that speaking the name of a familiar object influences visual processing and actually makes you better at finding it.  If you feel like messing with yourself, try saying the name of a different object while you’re looking; it’s been shown to trip you up. 

  2. Say it, learn it.  When tackling something new, like assembling IKEA furniture or studying for a Spanish quiz, go ahead and talk yourself through it. Hearing yourself say it becomes another form of input and helps you learn in multiple ways.

  3. Let kids talk.  In a study of preschoolers and private speech, kids were asked to do a task twice.  Once they were encouraged to talk to themselves, while the other time they were asked to stay quiet. Performance was better when the kids talked themselves through tasks.  Researchers concluded that teachers should allow and even encourage kids to talk to themselves during problem-solving.  Follow suit and allow the little ones in your life to do the same.

  4. “You idiot!”  A problem with talking to yourself arises if your commentary is both personal and negative.   Zingers such as “I am so stupid!” or “I’m an idiot!” don’t help anyone.  I’d be willing to bet your reaction doesn’t really match whatever you’re berating yourself for.   I’ll also bet you wouldn’t say the same thing to a friend.  If you hold a double standard—hard on yourself, forgiving of others—allow yourself some kindness.  Perhaps it’s not even really “you” talking, but someone critical or abusive from your past whom you’ve internalized.  Next time you tell yourself off, note it.  Then treat yourself as you would anyone else—with compassion and respect.  Take a deep breath and keep talking—allow yourself to refute your own worst critic. 

  5. Am I crazy?  A final note: folks have often asked me if talking to themselves means they are going crazy, because they see “crazy people” on the street doing the same thing.  These unfortunate souls most likely have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, a chronic yet treatable illness that has many symptoms, including interpreting reality in an abnormal way such as hallucinations or delusions, isolating one's self, and dropping out of life in general.  It can be terrifying and disorienting to experience schizophrenia; seek out a qualified mental health provider if you are concerned for yourself of a loved one.  In the absence of other symptoms, however, talking to yourself is not a cause for alarm. 

Finally, let me offer some further reassurance.  First, like a song stuck in your head, you may get words stuck in your head: lines from movies, silly phrases, old conversations.  You may find yourself muttering them, much like you may sing snippets from the Miley Cyrus song playing at the gas station.  Not a problem.  Second, it’s okay to replay.  Not only is there nothing wrong with rehearsing what you want to say in the future; it’s completely normal to rehash what you wish you had said in the past.

All in all, private speech can be used to motivate yourself (“I can do this!”) keep yourself on track (“I don’t need this cookie,”) replay conversations you had or wish you had (who hasn’t come up with a witty retort to some jerk 24 hours later?) narrate what you’re doing (“My keys were just here!”) comment on what’s happening (“Well, this sucks,”) comfort yourself (“It’s Ok, it’s Ok”), or express discontent (“Argh!”).

Think of talking to yourself as a tool to coach yourself through a challenge, or to narrate your own experiences.  In any case, treat yourself with respect and you just may find you enjoy your own company.

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References

Bivens, J.A. & Berk, L.E.  (1990).  A longitudinal study of the development of elementary school children’s private speech.  Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 36, 443-463.

Duncan, R.M. & Cheyne, J.A.  (2002).  Private speech in young adults: Task difficulty, self-regulation, and psychological predication.  Cognitive Development, 16, 889-906.

Kronk, C.  (1994).  Private speech in adolescents.  Adolescence, 29, 781-804.

Lupyan, G. & Swingley, D. (2012).  Self-directed speech affects visual search performance.  The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65, 1068-1085.

Winsler, A., Manfra, L., & Diaz, R.M.  (2007).  “Should I let them talk?”: Private speech and task performance among preschool children with and without behavior problems.  Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 22, 215-231.>

Man talking into mirror and other images courtesy of Shutterstock.

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