The inner dialogue that heals
In facing our days we are accompanied by a constant flow of thoughts . These are mostly automatic thoughts which constitute a very complex and difficult to reconstruct internal dialogue .
A large part of our automatic thoughts is given by fragmented sentences that on the whole only rarely carry out a coherent discourse and interface punctually with the reality that surrounds us .
Each of us has a characteristic flow of thoughts , these automatic conceptions can tell us a lot about our way of being and being in the world. The drawback is that since they are automatic thoughts they manage to cross our mind, to forge our perceptions and … to go completely unnoticed . In practice we do not know that we are deeply conditioned by our inner dialogue .
The automatic thoughts deserve our concentration. In the scenario of the psychological sciences, to pay attention to automatic thoughts was Aaron Beck, American psychiatrist and psychologist considered the founder of the classic approaches in cognitive psychotherapy.
Automatic thoughts that hurt
The flow of thoughts that characterizes our mind is:
- Consisting of images
Cognitive theory holds that we are continuously engaged in building the meaning of events . Automatic thoughts serve this purpose: it gives meaning to the experiences we live on a daily basis. The attribution of a meaning is extremely subjective, therefore reality lends itself to different readings … all guided by automatic thoughts.
Without going too far into the cognitive theoretical model, I will report only the basics that can be useful for self-reflective purposes . Automatic thoughts, according to Beck, become negative when they tend to always face the same issues (failure, self-criticism, unworthiness, incapacity, loss, non-amiability …) and to activate rumination .
In letting ourselves be dominated by negative automatic thoughts we run into multiple errors, as evidenced by Beck’s cognitive model.
Aaron Beck, speaking of the automatic negative thoughts of the cognitive triad refers to those thoughts that tend to always return an unfavorable image of himself, of the surrounding reality (the other and the events) and of the future (presented with frustration and difficulty). For the sake of synthesis, I will report only some of the errors that are well rooted in the lives of many .
Enlarge and minimize
How many times have you happened to reduce or enhance the relevance of an episode or event? I would say every time that you have diminished the gesture of affection of a friend or that you have heavily condemned a little carelessness!
I explain better. For many people, a missed call can be read as a sign of total disaffection . A small deficiency can be experienced as an affront, something unacceptable. On the other hand, when we receive a phone call we do not react with the same intensity and in the opposite direction: we do not feel grateful and covered with attentions but we will consider it a “banal phone call”.
So, on the basis of our negative automatic thoughts , the exact same experience can have diametrically opposite connotations.
Likewise, if you have a tendency to be too severe with yourself, you will tend to trivialize your successes and condemn yourself for every slightest mistake .
Our automatic negative thoughts lead us to conclusions based on an isolated event, regardless of context and other situations experienced.
I take the example of Concetta who, if for a day she does not receive the call from her daughter, deduces that she has raised an unreliable, absent daughter and that she completely cares for her mother’s needs.
The automatic thoughts did not allow Concetta to make inferences about the possible implications of the case (perhaps her daughter was busy) and above all they did not allow her to appreciate all the other calls received in the past. Thus, Concetta will continue to think that she has an ungrateful daughter and wallow in her unhappiness.
It is clear that the effects of generalization combined with minimization and exaggeration can give rise to large emotional avalanches . But cognitive errors do not end there.
Due to the effect of minimization and strong absolutist thinking, all partial positive signals we receive are ignored. We expect total dedication from our partner or affection without considering different shades.
These cognitive errors can take on the connotation of mental rumination . Rumination is the tendency to continually return to sad, alarming, shameful experiences or thoughts … ending up hyper-questioning about what happened.
The matrix of negative automatic thinking
Our automatic thoughts follow patterns and tend to be constant over time . The patterns followed are generally learned in childhood (moving into psychoanalytic theory, in some respects, Beck’s patterns are somewhat reminiscent of Bowlby’s internal operating models) and it is understandable that at the basis of negative automatic thoughts there is a history of rejection , discomfort, lack of attention, emotional neglet and inadequate care.
These patterns trigger a chain reaction in which negative vision of oneself and others predominates and guides us.
The inner dialogue that heals
With the theoretical notions just explained, you will have understood that dysfunctional automatic thoughts , if left in jeopardy, can give you a negative attitude towards negative experiences!
You will also understand that the roundup of motivational phrases in the style “if you believe it, you can do it …” is not born by chance and has something intrinsically true.
In the introduction I described the flow of thoughts as something automatic and involuntary , so how is it possible to change it? Fortunately, it is possible to train for a more constructive inner dialogue.
We can try to be the best interlocutors of ourselves . The thought internalized , characteristic of our mental life, can be useful or cause of much suffering depending on who takes the path of inner dialogue (more alert and driven) or mental rumination .
In the therapeutic courses we often talk about cognitive restructuring and it is extremely useful to improve the quality of our internalized thinking.
The cognitive restructuring is a proper technique of psychotherapy Cognitive which allows access to the dysfunctional thoughts and pathogenic beliefs to change them in favor of a style of thinking more functional and adaptive .
The choice to undertake a therapeutic path is difficult and must be developed over time. While you are making your choice, you can try simple exercises to do on a daily basis, especially while you are in bed about to sleep.
NB: cognitive restructuring goes far beyond a simple exercise! An article cannot be expected to obtain the expected results from a therapeutic course! It would be presumptuous of me to pretend to provide complex tools through an article and pretentious on the part of the reader to expect something like this!
To have a positive inner dialogue you can start working on your self-esteem by trying to perceive a sense of self as self-effective and able to console yourself.
The thoughts travel at the speed of an electrical impulse and this makes everything more difficult.
- Try to monitor your thoughts. What are they telling you?
- Intercept the thoughts that trigger depressive or demotivating moods, are you sure of the validity of that thought? Try to question it using all your intellect.
- During your inner dialogue, ask yourself what your fears are.
- Try to identify the judgments you give yourself and refute them by looking for positive past experiences.
The first exercise that I propose is simpler than the generic tips just seen.
Create a save reflection. See in your memory and grab a memory of an experience in which you felt capable. During the day, try to recall that experience several times without tripping over the mistake of diminishing it.
Try to leverage the memories in which you have created a positive image of yourself . In the still moments of your day (especially while you are in bed) try to get to know us, to recall them … remembering that you are exactly the same person.
If you have difficulty in this exercise and you cannot evoke any memories in which you felt satisfied with yourself, do not be discouraged. This is a common difficulty among those with a self-rejecting tendency. Before you can accept yourself, you will have to learn to validate your experiences .
If you cannot recall satisfying memories it does not mean that “you are good for nothing”, it means that you tend to ignore and trivialize your businesses (magnify the mistakes made and minimize the successes achieved), it is an effect of negative automatic thoughts .
Second exercise . In making inferences about your experience, try to be a benevolent interlocutor : turn to yourself as if you were your best friend!
Before attempting this experiment on difficult experiences, face it for events with low emotional load : thoughts travel at the speed of an electric impulse and slipping into the vortex of strongly rooted automatisms is simple when the emotional volume is high!
Inner dialogue is something realistic, which is why it differs from mere ” positive thinking “. It is in the realism of your resources that you can become your best ally.
nb: the female gender also applies to the male.