Talking to Ourselves—Getting Rid of Old, Self-Defeating Scripts

By Sharon Strand Ellison

". . . Most of us spend as much time conversing in our own heads as we do talking to other people!"

We most often refer to conversation as an external thing, something we do with others. But most of us spend as much time conversing in our own heads as we do talking to other people! Internally, we tell others what we think of them, we argue. Many of us, both men and women, spend more time than we'd like to admit both criticizing and defending ourselves!

For some of us, it is all in our own voice inside our head; for others, who have the creative capacity to "hear" the voice of parent, partner, daughter, son, friend, or enemy, the conversation may go on in a variety of "voices." This becomes self-defeating because whenever we are in power struggle, we are stuck. That's why these internal conversations can go in endless circles.

On the other hand, using PNDC skills, we can learn how to shift to non-defensive conversations within ourselves. Essentially, we do just as we would in any "out loud" conversation with another person, where we ask questions to understand better, make clear statements, and set boundaries. Simple, but powerful.

Following are 4 sets of tips for: Individuals, Couples, Parents, & Professionals:


For Individuals — Dealing with the Internal Critic:

Sample Questions: Do I think I have a choice about listening, or do I feel helpless? How much power am I choosing to give this critic? Do I have any opinion about myself that differs from the critic? What power would the critic have if I didn't answer her/him?

Or: We can ask questions directed to the critic, such as: What is your goal when you talk to me? Do you want to tear me down, or help me get stronger? Are you willing to be less critical?

There are a wealth of such questions that can free the person to begin to have more choice in how to respond to an inner critic.

Sample Statements: I would like to listen to anything you have to say that will help me become stronger. At the same time, I don't want to listen or even defend myself when you tear me down. I'm going to work not to answer you when you are harsh, even if I don't always succeed. I'd rather be friends with you than enemies.

Sample Predictions: If you criticize me harshly, then I will . . . (read a book, meditate, light a candle, take a walk, not answer, refuse to defend myself . . .). If you give me feedback in a way that helps me feel stronger, then I'd love to listen to you.

Of course this conversation may not stop the critic right away, but people have reported that it stopped the voice(s) from having so much impact, so the people had power to make real change.


For Couples — Being in a Receptive Internal State without Fear of Being Controlled:

"We can often be afraid that . . . listening can mean that we risk letting ourselves be controlled."

In traditional communication, we can often be afraid that if we listen to the other person, we might be persuaded to do something we don't want to do. Listening can mean that we risk letting ourselves be controlled! Thus, we often argue back, defend ourselves or withdraw when we disagree with our partner's viewpoint.

In non-defensive communication, we can listen carefully, ask questions, and gain an in-depth understanding of what the other person means. In the process, we also hold the other person more accountable. To help yourself be less afraid of listening, you can ask yourself:

What is it I think I will lose if I listen before responding?

What would stop me from listening and then still stating my own position clearly?

Am I moving into a defensive position?

Do I care more about winning right now than about resolving this conflict?

Am I caught in power struggle?

What do I need to do to get out of my own part of the power struggle?

Am I willing to be out of the power struggle even if he/she stays in it? What will I gain by staying in the struggle?

What will I gain by getting out of it?

All of these questions can help you loosen yourself from the grasp of defensive struggle. Your answers to the questions in your own internal dialogue can also give you great insights. When we are defensive the neurons in our brain fire to an older, less rational region. Have you noticed the kind of outrageous things people can say when they are defensive? Well, once you're "out" of the grip of defensive thinking/acting, your own clarity will increase greatly, and your partner may drop her/his own defenses and join you in seeking genuine understanding.

When you remain non-defensive, you can listen without fear of being controlled because you can state your feelings, beliefs and reasoning clearly and set whatever boundaries you need. It is a myth, I believe, that we need defensiveness as our primary protection. Of course, I still make that choice sometimes, too, when I can't figure out what else to do, am tired, or too frustrated!

For another example of how being non-defensive can enhance listening to your partner/spouse, read the story "Late or Not?"


For Parents — Eliminating Rejection &/or Criticism as Part of Limit-Setting:

"He had used fear of abandonment as the basis of his limit-setting, fluctuating between rejecting and reassuring the child. Many of us . . . do more subtle forms of it ourselves."

While walking down the street, I heard/saw a father saying to his tiny daughter, "Come on now, we have to get in the car and go. "The child, playing, ran away. Well, playing and disobeying. The father said, "OK, I'm going to leave without you!" The child began to cry immediately, and then the father reassured her, saying, "No, honey, I won't leave you." But she was frightened and couldn't stop crying. He had used fear of abandonment as the basis of his limit-setting, fluctuating between rejecting and reassuring the child.

Many of us would clearly disagree with that father's behavior without realizing that we do more subtle forms of it ourselves. Any time we set boundaries with children with a need to control which choice the child makes, we are likely to communicate irritation, frustration, criticism, even outright anger. Such forms of disapproval convey punitive, rejecting energy to the child or teen. This can happen even if we are ever-so-sweetly trying to coax a child into doing what we want. Subtle . . . but the child will still know that making the "right choice" will result in approval and the "wrong choice" will result in some emotional rejection.

When setting limits, it is vital to make sure that you can live with whatever consquence you set and let the consequence "do the work" naturally, with no need for parental coaxing or disapproval. To help keep you on-track you can ask yourself:

Am I feeling a need to control which choice my child makes?

Will I be upset (rejecting) if my child doesn't chose what I want her/him to?

Can I set this limit in a firm, neutral, yet nurturing way?

The questions and your answers can help you have the strength to create the kind of limits that honor your child's need to learn from making her/his own decisions. In this case, the father could have simply said, "If you don't come to the car now, then I'll carry you, and if you do come now, you can walk over here yourself." Now, the child can learn from her own chioce without fear of abandonment.


For Professionals — Keeping & Building Confidence

"We betray ourselves any time we see ourselves through the eyes of another person who is critical."

We betray ourselves any time we see ourselves through the eyes of another person who is critical or judgmental toward us. We might anticipate someone's judgment of us for any number of the standard reasons, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, weight, dress, personality or even a past conflict.

Ask yourself the question: "If I walk into a meeting where I expect someone to judge me or have a disrespectful view of me, whose image do I have in my mind at that moment? The other person's view of me, or my own view of myself? Many people report that they are focused on the other person's view of them, which undermines their confidence. A powerful form of inner dialogue in these situations is to ask a slightly different version of that question:

"Do I want to focus on her/his view of me, or keep my own view of myself strong in my mind? Or,

"Do I want to focus on my own values or let myself feel diminished by hers/his?

Shifting internally to your own view of yourself (or the view that someone who loves you has) instead of that of a critical co-worker or supervisor can give you an instant booster shot of confidence. The questions must be asked thoughtfully, without trying to convince yourself, looking for the true answer.

For another example of keeping your confidence when feeling intimidated in a work situation, ready the story "Job Assignments."

The Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication • Contact Us
Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2016 Sharon Strand Ellison

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Tips & Examples:

Talking to Ourselves — Getting Rid of Old, Self-Defeating Scripts

1. For Individuals — Dealing with the Internal Critic

2. For Couples — Being in a Receptive Internal State without Fear of Being Controlled

3. For Parents — Eliminating Rejection &/or Criticism as Part of Limit-Setting

4. For Professionals — Keeping & Building Confidence

Also See:

Responding to Criticism Non-Defensively

Vulnerability as a Source of Strength

Eliminating Victim
Mind-set