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
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
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?
I be upset (rejecting) if my child doesn't chose what I want her/him to?
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."
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?
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."
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Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2016 Sharon Strand Ellison