Whilst we can discover many things about ourselves by listening in to our conversations with others, we can just as powerfully become conscious of hidden aspects of ourselves by tuning into our inner conversations with ourselves.
Examples of some of the things we say to others are:
- ‘You never listen’
- ‘You’re never there when I need you’
- ‘You only think about yourself’
- ‘You’re impossible to talk to’
- ‘You’re sorry you ever got involved with me’
- ‘You’re perpetually late’
- ‘You think you know it all’
- ‘You have no feelings’
- ‘You make me so angry’
The messages quoted above are known as projections – messages about yourself that you unconsciously put over on others. When you come to a realisation that everything you say is about yourself and you replace the ‘you’ with an ‘I’ in the above messages, you then consciously see what you are saying about or want from another is what you need to say or give to yourself; the messages now change to:
- ‘I need to listen to myself’
- ‘I need to be there for myself’
- ‘I need to think for myself’
- ‘I need to talk with myself’
- ‘I’m questioning my involvement with you’
- ‘I’m perpetually late in attending to myself’
- ‘I have my own knowledge, beliefs and opinions’
- ‘I need to attend to my feelings’
- ‘My anger belongs to me’
The major difference between the two sets of messages is the ownership, responsibility and independence present in the ‘I’ messages and hugely absent in the ‘you’ messages. The reality is that in our conversations with another – in what we say – we have an opportunity to consciously get to know ourselves. Equally, when another person is speaking, there is an opportunity to get to know that person. However, when you are not reading your own inner messages you are not in a place to get to know the other when he or she is speaking. There is a wonderful liberation in the conscious knowledge that individuals, including oneself, can only ever talk about oneself – whether one realises or not realises that phenomenon.
Inner conversations can also be resources to deepen our understanding of ourselves and journaling such conversations can be helpful in this process. Typical inner messages that individuals give themselves are:
- ‘Nobody likes me’
- ‘I’m going to make a right fool of myself if I give that presentation’
- ‘I hate myself’
- ‘I feel so ugly and unattractive’
- ‘I’m jealous of that person’
- ‘I’m dreading what those people will think of me’
- ‘Nothing ever works out for me’
In reviewing the above messages, it is important to see that these have creative and protective intentions and are, thereby, not negative. Each one of us is a unique, non-recurring phenomenon and when any threat is present to the wellbeing of our unique presence, we will automatically and creatively find ways to reduce or eliminate those threats. The foregoing examples of inner messages provide accurate clues not only to the threats experienced but to what aspects of self you had to hide in the face of those rejections.
The first message indicates a deep and persisting emotional abandonment, such that your clever protection is to believe that ‘nobody likes me’ and that conversation supports you in avoiding reaching our to anybody. None of us wants to re-experience the intense pain of emotional abandonment. The resolution in adulthood is to find an enduring supportive relationship that will provide the emotional safety for you to reach out to yourself for love and from that inner solid place to once again take the risk of reaching out to others.
The second message manifests a fear of ridicule and the inner message is bolstering up your defence of not taking on a risk where failure is a possibility. So many children have been hurt and humiliated around failure experiences and they carry this fear of being publicly humiliated into their adult years. The resolution lies in again finding the supportive relationships that do not confuse your unique presence with a mistake and encourages you to embrace the adventure of living that you had hidden so well. ‘I hate myself’ and ‘I feel so ugly and unattractive’ are messages many individuals give themselves and these reveal a re-enactment within themselves of the particular rejections they experienced and the protective ploy of being ahead of those who are likely to reject them. The resolution is again searching for that unconditional holding that provides the safety to come into consciousness of the unique person that one is. The final three examples given above manifest the inner struggle to acknowledge one’s own individuality, to think well of self and to believe in one’s power beyond measure to effectively live your own life. There is no one who has not experienced some form of emotional and social abandonment in their early years and the struggle – the suffering we experience – is a path to maturity, not a pathology.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist, author, national and international speaker.
His book with co-author Helen Ruddle, Relationship, Relationship, Relationship, Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to this article.