Do You Talk To Yourself?
By Leslie Vernick
You may not realize it, but you do talk to yourself, all the time. You continuously have an inner dialogue about life, people, God, and your own self. It’s important that you pay attention to this inner conversation because much of the time, you don’t tell yourself God’s truth.
For example, God told the Israelites, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…” (Deuteronomy 8:17). See also Deuteronomy 9:4-6 for another example of untruthful self-talk.
Perhaps the better question to ask yourself is not do you talk to yourself but rather how do you talk to yourself? Sometimes the most destructive relationship a person can have is with his or her own self. Have you ever told yourself, “I’m so fat I can’t stand myself?” Or, “I can’t believe I did that, I must be an idiot.” On a personal note, recently I struggled with an inner voice that reminded me of some of my faults and failures. Once I saw what I was doing I started to feel anxious because I told myself that I should be beyond all that negative self-talk. I should be stronger than I am, better than I am, further along than I am. Sound familiar?
Although I have learned to recognize and talk back to my destructive internal voice, sometimes it still gets the best of me. Often our biggest persecutors are not external but internal. Even after a destructive person has left our life (or we have left theirs), we still find we aren’t free from hurtful words, only now they are our own.
The Bible tells us that words are powerful. For example, “Reckless words pierce like a sword” (Proverbs 12:18) and “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Pay attention to your own inner dialogue. Is your typical self talk laced with the three C’s of condemnation, criticism and contempt? For example:
- Don’t try, give up. I can’t do anything right.
- No one really cares. I’m stupid (or ugly, or fat).
- I just made a fool out of myself.
- Everyone is laughing at me.
- Who do I think I am?
- I’m a miserable mess of a human being.
- I can’t do it. I’ll just mess it up. No one likes me.
- I’m not good enough.
If you want to get healthy and whole (holy) start to pay attention to what you say to yourself and challenge it with the truth. I don’t mean simply replace negative self-talk with more positive words of affirmation such as:
- I’m so wonderful.
- I can do anything I set my mind to.
- I can do no wrong.
- I deserve to be respected, loved, admired, appreciated, rich, and/or successful.
Nor do I necessarily mean that you should solely affirm yourself with Biblical identity words like “I am a child of God” or “I am fully and completely loved.” Although much truer, this form of self-talk keeps the focus on you rather than on God.
Don’t get me wrong. Some introspection is necessary for healthy self-reflection and self-examination, but many of us endlessly think about ourselves in one way or another. Regardless of whether we speak positively or negatively to ourselves, when we are continuously focused on and wrapped up in ourselves, we have missed the gospel story. It is NOT all about us.
Jesus told his followers that the truth would set us free. This freedom releases us from Satan’s gripping lies AND frees us from our constant focus on ourselves. We were made for something greater than a continual self-improvement project. We were made to glorify God, not ourselves.
Seventeenth-century mystic François Fénelon wisely warned us about this proclivity toward our self focused, negative self-talk. He said, “Merely to see how wretched we are and to fall into despair over what we see is not being humble. On the contrary, to do that is to have a fit of pride that cannot consent to being brought low.” He goes on to say, “Discouragement is not the fruit of humility, but of pride.” Jesus came to save sinners, not saints. If we believe that to be true, then why are we so surprised, hurt, sad, and disappointed when we actually see our own sin?
What does this all mean in terms of the way we talk to ourselves? Recently one of my clients said, “I just need to stay focused.'' Although a good strategy, let’s be clear on what we need to stay focused on. Focus on Jesus and he will show you how to see yourself rightly. Focus on knowing him, loving him, obeying him, serving him, honoring him, and glorifying him and everything else will fall into its rightful place.
Take some time this week to read and familiarize yourself with how Jesus handled the failure of the disciple Peter (Mark 16:7; John 21:15-21), and the sins of the woman at the well (John 4), or the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-7). We will only see ourselves truthfully (good and bad, strong and weak, beautiful and ugly) when we place the eyes of our hearts on Jesus and not on ourselves and our sins and failures.
Listen to what Paul writes about how God sees you.
“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)
When you focus on Jesus, it’s not that you aren’t aware of your faults and failures, but your attention doesn’t stay on you. Instead it is fixed on the loving, forgiving, and merciful grace of God. Paul’s response to these great truths is, “So we praise God for his glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.” It is all about Him. This is the gospel, the good news we celebrate and take refuge in.