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A psychology study has analyzed how you experience ‘that voice in your head.’ Self-talk is normal – the voice that says things you just don’t say out loud. It can be a running commentary on your activities, the occasional disapproving remark on your behavior, or even take the form of a disagreement as you weigh up opposite points of view.
To try and really understand the effects of it a new study set out to explore and categorize how it happens and what effect it has on your emotions. In two research studies they asked people to think about the type of voice they most often hear in their mental conversations. They were asked to score from 1-4 how much each of 24 emotional words applied to the tone and words that this self-talk took – for instance emotions such as joy, shame, strength, intimacy, anger, and calm. Their subsequent analysis found that their descriptions of the inner voices that they most heard fit into four clear categories:
- “Faithful Friend” – a strong, positive voice cheering you on;
- “Ambivalent Parent” – a loving voice that disagrees with irresponsible ideas;
- “Proud Rival” – a confident and proud voice, distinct from you;
- “Calm Optimist” – a positive voice.
To take their findings further a next study ran the same process with participants but asked them to score the type of voice they hear less regularly. Another clear ‘type’ emerged, this time categorized as that of a: “Helpless Child” – with high negative emotion and low contact with others.
This British Psychological study concluded that as well as the clear positive/negative influence of these inner voices, some were solution seeking (Faithful Friend and Parent) while others were far more confrontational and even destructive (Proud Rival and Helpless Child). So knowing which of these inner voices you engage with the most gives you choice to pick the tone and words you use in your self-talk. And this really can turn you into a better ally for yourself:
“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy.”[Bhagavad Gita 6.6]
[The study: ‘Self-Talk: Conversation With Oneself? Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, Volume 149, Issue 5, 2015]