It’s called self-talk, emotional traffic, inner conflict, internal family. Call it what you will, it can have a marked effect on the way we see the world. These ancient childhood voices are primed to protect us from facing childhood trauma that we found difficult to cope with at the time. Those first gentle messages in a child’s mind about avoiding dysfunction have, in some cases, turned into raging voices of abuse, escape, guilt, anger and shame and as adults, we listen to them and act on their advice. They are trusted confidants and they have been with us all the way. However, if we listen to them, we are likely to be stuck.
I am firmly convinced that if we can become aware of how this internal talk started and take action to master it, we can recover from just about anything. Simply stated, we become what we think and we can learn to think differently. However, as we know, things are never quite that simple and many ingrained thoughts and habits might need to be worked through before things get better. The first stage of this process is understanding where the self-talk came from in the first place.
There is a widely recognised process that occurs in childhood when dysfunction is sensed by a developing child. “Splitting ” is a neurological and psychological process that protects the child from perceived threat of neglect, abuse and abandonment. On a psychological level, it is a question of dissociation away from the present moment of danger into a “protective me” personality, leaving the “other me” child behind which holds all the innocence of a young child, that is, staying in the moment inquisitive, curious and trusting. The “protective me” takes over which is full of measures designed by the child to shield it from the dysfunction going on around him or her. This could include rage or avoidance, shutting down or sadness. This is also where the origins of our internal family of thinking or self- talk comes from.
This “protective me” is the one that is often developed into adulthood with the measures still in place and working hard to further protect the “host”. The early protection measures develop into complex thinking parts that when triggered will give input to protect the Self. These include the Inner Critic, a managing voice that keeps rigid patterns of thinking alive. Along with guilt and shame elements, it can drive the feelings of perfection, overwork and fuel self- doubt. The avoidance part of our thinking can instigate escape methods such as procrastination and to the extreme addiction to substances and eating disorders. As we said, what we think, we become.
As stated, these ancient voices pop up when we are triggered to protect the Self from dysfunction and feelings felt as a child. Their preferred option is that the host does not do anything risky (an essential element of life) but spin their wheels thinking about what they can do. This avoids facing rejection and the feelings of not being good enough but it solves nothing. Many people listen instinctively to these voices and thus have a constant stream of emotional traffic defining the way they see the world. It is an attitude of fear that means that facing uncertainty is extremely difficult and avoided at all cost.
In therapy, it takes time to identify the range of thinking parts and what they are protecting the host from. That can be found by working with childhood issues and the origin of the dysfunction. Once a clear sense of awareness is found, an adult voice can be developed that not only challenges the childlike critics and inner family and soothe them at the same time. This will eventually lead to releasing the fear of action. Once the first step is taken, it is less difficult to take the next one, building courage and self- esteem as the process develops. By doing this we can reconnect with the parts of us we left behind.