From the babbling two-year-old to the wise octogenarian, we have all witnessed people engrossed in self-talk. But have you ever wondered if this habit seems odd and peculiar? Psychologists say that conversing with oneself is not a matter of concern but a sign of psychological well-being.
Self-talk is about expressing your inner thoughts
According to Dr Neelam Mishra, a clinical psychologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi, self-talk often gives a sense of having a non-judgmental confidant. “During these conversations with themselves, they can openly express their thoughts and opinions, fostering a feeling of confidence and the belief that they are truly being heard,” she says. Additionally, self-talk even leads to answers to their own questions or worries.
Is self-talk unhealthy?
Dr Somnath C P, consultant psychiatrist at Healing Minds Clinic, Kochi emphasises that one cannot categorise self-talk as definitively good or bad. It is a mental habit that individuals often develop unknowingly. “Some forms of self-talk may indeed point to underlying mental health issues. However, most of these are habits people unknowingly cultivate, and can be beneficial,” he says. It is essential to recognise that not all self-talk is pathologically negative; in fact, many instances of self-dialogue are psychologically helpful and contribute to a person’s overall well-being.
Benefits of self-talk
According to a 2014 study by Ethan Kross, professor of psychology and management at the University of Michigan, USA, individuals dealing with anxiety, particularly social anxiety, may find self-talk to be beneficial.
The study further states that self-talk helps one to discover solutions to one’s problems by engaging in introspection, and carefully listening to one’s thoughts. This process aids in reasoning through their questions and provides self-motivation, and a sense of confidence. Mishra highlights that scientific findings also suggest that individuals who engage in healthy self-talk not only motivate themselves but also nurture a positive outlook. This constructive self-dialogue paves the way for a future filled with optimism and well-being, with no harm to oneself or others.
For instance, muttering to oneself during significant events like sports competitions or personal challenges increases one’s self-confidence.
Dr Somnath says that some individuals engage in vocalised self-talk in private settings, especially when reflecting on personal matters like an argument. This form of self-talk involves articulating both sides of the issue, analysing the pros and cons, and rendering judgments. “It is a constructive process, helping individuals make sense of a situation or make decisions,” he says.
The insights from research
In a 2017 study conducted by professor LBW Geurts at the University of Nijmegen, Netherlands, it was found that talking out loud to oneself is an integral aspect of human development and behaviour. This phenomenon typically commences in childhood, with children as young as two or three engaging in self-talk. This habit continues to evolve until the age of five. Beyond this age, overt self-talk gradually decreases, although it seldom completely vanishes.
A 2021 study led by Dr Tom Brinthaupt, professor of psychology at Middle Tennessee State University, USA, says that participating in external self-talk may have a significant role on emotional self-regulation, impulse control, and the guidance of one’s actions. Furthermore, this practice can enhance memory and help manifest personal intentions.
Signs of harmful self-talk
According to Dr Mishra, unhealthy self-talk can trigger stress, anxiety, and even traumatic responses. This pattern is characterised by several negative thoughts and opinions. This often results in excessive rumination and the creation of unwarranted and stress-inducing narratives. “Red flags to keep an eye out for include crying during self-talk, getting upset while talking to oneself, harming oneself or others, and indulging in fantastical, distressing thoughts,” she says.
Experts add that talking to oneself is typically not a sign of a deeper mental health issue. However, there may be cause for concern if this self-talk is extremely negative, challenging to regulate, or accompanied by audio or visual hallucinations. In this situation, instead of conversing with oneself, a person would speak loudly to a non-existent external source. “Illogical, incoherent, and disordered self-talk can be symptoms of schizophrenia, OCD or a condition similar to it,” says Dr Somnath.
Self-talk is a universal aspect of human interaction with oneself. It serves a wide range of purposes, including psychological benefits. It is important to acknowledge and address unhealthy self-talk patterns. Conversing with oneself, whether internally or vocally, can help one navigate one’s thoughts, emotions, and challenges. The voices inside our heads are often our partners in the journey of self-discovery and growth.