Just want to follow up on the last post, because I met with a client earlier a couple of weeks ago who specifically wanted to start working in a cognitive way. The hardest part of doing cognitive therapy, I’ve found, is to start. This makes doing cognitive therapy a lot like everything else, of course, but I’ll forego a juicy opportunity for digression.
The thing is, when we think, we are talking to ourselves. Thinking is not an automatic pronouncement of absolute truth, a description of absolute reality, or anything else. It might be a pronouncement of absolute truth, a description of absolute reality– but most likely not. What it usually is, is an inner monologue. Sometimes, it’s true, we may think in music, or think in images, but mostly we are talking to ourselves, either consciously and deliberately or not.
Cognitive therapy involves looking at this inner monologue and challenging the cognitive distortions. So if I’m feeling depressed over a failed relationship I might tell myself, “All my relationships fail. I’ll never have a successful relationship.” One cognitive distortion there is fortune telling. Another one is all/nothing thinking. In this case, the two overlap. Even the assertion that “All my relationships fail” may be suspect– perhaps if I review my relationship history I’ll realize I have sometimes dumped other people, or we called it off mutually. Even if I determine that I was dumped every time, I will likely have to admit that the relationships worked for a while. In short, the statement was not a statement of absolute truth, it was a judgment call– and I may have slanted the judgment against myself!
But the hardest part for so many people is to recognize that what I’m looking at here is my own inner monologue, not a statement of objective truth or reality. The best statement I ever heard about this process came, as so many pearls of wisdom have, from a client. She said, “When I’m talking to myself, paying attention is a form of self-respect.” Listening carefully to the inner monologue and recognizing it as my own voice, talking to me, is a sometimes difficult but invaluable step in being able to change.
Note: the image source also includes a post about the practice of deliberately talking to oneself and why it helps. Here I’m writing about something significantly different, the process of being mindful of one’s own inner monologue, which seems (and may be) spontaneous and unguided, and the recognition that it comes from me.