Our Internal Dialogue: How We Got It and How We Can Use It Consciously to Cultivate Healthy Relationships
When you and I were babies, we came to the world with the ability to communicate. We cried, stared, moved our limbs, shrieked, cooed, and made all kinds of noises and movements to get attention from our parents and caretakers. We did this for two reasons. One, we could not fend for ourselves, so we needed others to pay attention to us and help us stay alive. And two, because as human beings, we are wired for connection and we cannot actually thrive- our brains don’t develop well- if we don’t feel connected to others.
Communicating skillfully allows us to both survive and thrive!
During our first years of life, we were learning to communicate in the same way that our parents, caretakers and others in our environment communicated so that we could survive and potentially thrive in that setting.
Learning to communicate and express ourselves is not simply expanding our vocabulary or learning how to ask for what we need. As we develop the ability communicate we internalize the rules and implicit messages of our environment about how to relate to ourselves and others. For example, based on cues from the environment, or sometimes explicit messages we begin to understand what to say or not to say when we feel angry, hurt, or excited. When we make a mistake, we learn how we should we respond. The list goes on and on…You get the picture!
What about our internal dialogue?
When we were young, we did not have the capacity to reflect about ourselves - this happens around the age of 14. Without self-reflection, we had to rely on others try to make sense of who we are and therefore how to relate to ourselves.
We paid great attention to what our parents and people in our young environment told us about ourselves and trusted that this accurately reflected who we were.
This is how the language we hear as children becomes the language of our internal dialogue.
If we heard that we were shy, we thought and may continue to think of ourselves as shy. If we heard that we were independent and were celebrated for our sense of independence, then we started to believe that this was who we were.
This language we heard about ourselves affects everything. It becomes the language of our thoughts, the language we use to see and identify ourselves, and it influences the kind of decisions we make in our lives, from who to hang out with, to the careers we will pursue, to how we spend our free time!
This language in our internal dialogue is not a problem at all and it can actually be quite beneficial, unless it describes you inaccurately, it leads you to self-criticism, judgment of others, anxiety, internal pressure or social isolation.
The good news is that because the language we use to communicate, both verbal and non- verbal, is learned, we can change it!
After working with hundreds of adults and exploring their internal dialogue, I consistently find that most of the internal dialogue related to our beliefs about ourselves and others is not ours! It was borrowed from what we repeatedly heard in our younger years.
Let me give you an example from my own life and upbringing. When I was born, the story goes that I came out with my hands open. My mother instantly believed in the Argentinean superstition that if a baby is born with open hands, she will be too generous, too giving and will suffer because of that.
I cannot tell you how many times I heard my mother telling me I was too generous, too giving. She would constantly direct my attention to how much I gave to others and would ask me if I was receiving in the same measure.
In my internal dialogue I developed the idea that I was “too generous, too giving” and that this giving would lead me to suffering. Sometimes I would withhold giving; other times I would give to test how much I would receive back, especially from friends or intimate relationships.
I had to do a lot of work in my internal dialogue to connect to my authentic sense of generosity because the truth is that I do love to give. I don’t believe it comes from the fact that my hands were open when I was born. I believe it comes from the joy I feel in my heart when I give.
If we discover that the ways in which we communicate are not in alignment with our values and vision for our lives, we can learn a language that is. In my case, I learned to listen to my heart when it felt moved to give, and do so. I also learned to replace the measuring of what I get back in my internal dialogue with internal expressions of gratitude for all that I do receive from life and people around me on a daily basis.
How Can You Transform Your Internal Dialogue to Cultivate Healthy Relationships with Yourself and Others?
1. Learn to listen to your internal dialogue
Take note of what you say to yourself about yourself and others. What do you say about yourself? What do you say about others?
2. Identify which ideas and beliefs are yours and which are borrowed
After you hear in your internal dialogue a description of “I am ….” “Others are….” pause and ask yourself if those ideas actually match your experience or if they instead reflect those of your parents, teachers, or beliefs prevalent in the culture while you were growing up.
3. Decide if the ideas and beliefs you hear in your internal dialogue are in alignment with your values and vision for yourself and your relationships
For example, if you value empathy and compassion, then your internal dialogue has an abundance of curious and neutral observational language. When you hear others speak you ask questions to understand them more. If your internal dialogue is in alignment with your values or empathy and compassion, then there is very little criticism, and few assumptions or judgments of yourself and others.[distance1]
4. Devote your time and attention to learn about how to transform the language of your internal dialogue
If your internal dialogue does not match your values or vision, read about how to transform it, take classes, attend workshops, work with a communication coach or join a communication coaching group that allows you to have a community of people who are working on skillful communication for thriving relationships.
If you are a parent or are around children...
By now you understand that the language you speak to children in reference to themselves will become their internal dialogue, so, please, please, please, consider taking these three conscious and compassionate actions:
1. Become aware of the language you are using when you talk to your children about them
Are you using labels and telling your children they are “too much, emotional, difficult, strong, loving” etc.?
2. Identify the messages you’d like your children to hear in their internal language
What do you consciously want to pass on to your children? How do you want your children to relate to themselves and others?
3. Talk to your children mindfully and respectfully
This is especially true when you feel uncomfortable with their behavior. Take workshops, read blogs, attend conscious communication parenting events. Really, be proactive about this.
I’m offering some online programs as well as workshops for parents to teach them how to communicate with their children respectfully and mindfully in challenging situations, which you can find here.
And if you’d like to receive a blog a month on conscious communication directly in your inbox, sign up here. I would love to contribute to you and your relationships!