Self-Talk and Self-Concept
When you talk to yourself, you are altering or reinforcing your self-concept. Self-esteem has become a common term, but the origins of our self-concept often remain lost in the murky memories (or lack thereof) of our first months of life - beginning in the womb.
Michel Odent, MD, has amassed data showing that our present state of health is more strongly affected by our experiences in our mother's womb than by any of the health-promoting behaviors we have discussed here.* While there's nothing we can do to alter what has already happened, there is much we can do to recognize and compensate for the damage that may have been done to our developing nervous system in the first months of life (and much we can do about the experience any of our future offspring will have). The sum total of the thoughts you think about yourself, who you are, and what you are worth, are built upon your experiences of yourself and your world, as an infant. The environment you grew up in (nurturing and supportive versus harsh and unsupportive) profoundly shaped the architecture and development of your brain (see 3.38M3.16). It determines your self-concept, and that in turn designs your internal environment. A strong, worthy self-concept goes with a strong, worthy body-mind. Your wellness depends upon your self-concept.
You may not remember your early years, but you'll never forget them. —Anonymous
Many people have been trained," from before they could even speak, to turn gold into garbage - using the Midas touch in reverse. Someone says, "I like what you're wearing tonight" and your internal wiring hears "So you didn't like what I wore last night? I suppose that means I'm not OK." A supervisor remarks, "This is good work." The employee with a damaged self-concept remarks to herself, "So everything else I've done has been bad? I'm just an incompetent person.."
These inner conversations, internal dialogues, are you talking to yourself all day long. What once appeared to be someone else's judgment of you now is your own judgment, not only of yourself, but most likely of everyone around you, from morning till night, and even in your dreams. This is how you furnish the stage on which you act out your personal drama: by constantly judging, endlessly choosing the right category or box in which to safely place each person and situation you encounter. This is a very tiring way of life!
Once you realize how frustrating and exhausting this self-talk is, you can resolve to change it. Try setting aside a few short periods each day in which you simply listen to your inner dialogue. Write out the dialogue or make a list of the negative messages you frequently hear yourself repeating. It is amazing how predictable and uncreative such messages are. Don't try to change them, at first. Just notice them, again and again and again. After a short time, when you get really tired of them, you may be more motivated to try a different strategy to turn them off. Some people say that bursting into song is a good way to turn your attention to something else. Others support strong physical exercise as a way to break the patterns.
Using affirmations, making up positive statements that provide counterarguments to your negative self-assessment, seem to work well for people who already have a fairly positive self-image, or for whom times seem good, but for others they are not effective because these affirmations are not based in present reality.
* Odent, M., Primal Health: Understanding the Critical Period between Conception and the First Birthday.
(Clairview Books, 2002). See also www.birthworks.org/primalhealth.