Watch What You Say…To Yourself!
“I must be going crazy. Here I am talking to myself again”. So we say to ourselves. But talking to yourself is not a sign of “going crazy” or of “losing your mind.” We talk to ourselves every day of our lives. What we say to ourselves when we do so is of crucial importance.
This article is written to help you achieve these two goals:
- To help you to listen to your own “self-talk” and to understand that changing it, when necessary, is the way you change the emotion you are experiencing at the moment.
- To help you to listen to the “self-talk” of the people you deal with on a daily basis and, when appropriate, to usea Counselor to help these people change their self-talk and perhaps their lives as well.
Dr. William Backus, the author of Self Talk and Telling Yourself The Truth, is a clinical psychologist and also a minister. He calls his method of treatment “Misbelief Therapy.” According to Backus, a “misbelief” is a lie that you tell yourself.
“Our emotions are NOT created by what happens to us; rather,
our emotions are created by what we TELL ourselves
about what happens to us.”
As an example, let me tell you the story of Jerry. Jerry’s marriage ended after 15 years and he was forced to live alone, facing a divorce he didn’t want. He spent many evenings trying to dull his pain with alcohol. He was so unhappy that he wanted to die because he just couldn’t see any other way out of his unhappy circumstances.
Finally, Jerry decided to see a psychotherapist for help. Once in therapy, he gradually began to see that this life didn’t have to be over. He started to see God again as the Giver of good, despite his unhappy circumstances.
He explained it this way: One day while I sat groveling in my sorrows, I listened to the words I had been telling myself, things like Oh, what’s the use? I’m all alone. Nobody loves me or cares about me. Nobody wants to be with me. I’m rejected and useless… Suddenly I was shocked. I thought, What am I telling myself anyway?
What ARE You Telling Yourself???
A key to Jerry’s healing was that Jerry questioned his self-talk. He recognized something radically wrong with what he had been telling himself and realized that his depression was not due to his impending divorce, but it was due to what he was telling himself about it.
| Instead of saying,
“I’m a failure and I’m no good,”
| He said:
“The marriage failed. But I am deeply loved by God. Therefore I am important.”
| Instead of saying,
“I’m so lonely and miserable,”
| He said:
“I’m alone but I am not lonely.”
| Instead of saying,
“I’m separated from my family and there’s no joy anymore for me,”
| He said:
“I’m separated from my family and that hurts. I can function even though I hurt.
Jerry’s Healing And The Truth
As a result he began to change what he had been telling himself. This took some work and determination on his part. It wasn’t easy at first. But, because he refused to be a “chump” (as he put it) to a pack of self-destroying lies, he taught himself to confess the truth.
Jerry stopped drinking. He argued with the destructive sentences he had been telling himself. He told himself the truth. His circumstances hadn’t changed, but what he told himself about the circumstances changed! He discovered that he had been telling himself a pack of lies, straight from the devil himself.
Three Steps Toward Blessedness
Here are the 3 steps Backus suggested to enable you to become the blessed person God wants you to be:
1) Locate your misbeliefs.
2) Remove them (argue against them as Jerry did).
3) Replace your misbeliefs with the truth. (Jerry told himself It’s nonsense to say that I am unlovable and useless. I am loved with an everlasting love by the God of the universe. In Him, I have countless talents and uses and I am infinitely valuable to Him).
The Three Steps
1) Locate your misbeliefs,
2) Remove them, and
3) Replace your misbeliefs with the truth.
Application I: Misbeliefs And Anger
The Three Steps And Anger
Let’s try the 3-step method with anger. Ok ladies, this one is for you. Marilyn had resented her husband Jack for years. At least once a day, she told herself words like this: I can’t stand this any longer and, I’m wasting my time with him. Her husband complained, found fault, made cutting remarks, and compared his wife with younger and more attractive women.
She felt insignificant, inadequate and quite angry. Marilyn didn’t tell anyone how she felt, but a perceptive observer would know that something is wrong. She developed headaches which sent her to bed, sobbing with pain. Jack considered her headaches as just a ploy to get attention.
Let’s find what Marilyn was telling herself:
1) It was shocking and intolerable to be treated unfairly by her preacher-husband.
2) She was right in demanding her husband treat her and their children with love, tenderness, consideration and kindness.
3) Since Jack was her husband he owed her love.
4) Her husband was terrible to criticize her and compare her unfavorably to other women. This behavior was outrageous and dreadful and absolutely intolerable.The headaches were the cause of her visit to The Center for Psychological Services.
“It is not what people say or do that creates your emotions,
but rather what you tell yourself about what people say or do to you.”
Marilyn’s Truth1) It’s terrible to have a husband like Jack Jack is my God-given husband and although I would prefer him to act differently, I can live with him without making continued demands that go unmet anyhow. 2) It’s impossible to happy with a husband like Jack It would be nice if he would change, but it is not essential for my happiness. 3) I can’t stand it any longer I can live a satisfactory life even if Jack doesn’t treat me as I want to be treated. My life can be fulfilling and enjoyable even if he never changes. 4) I’m wasting my life I’m not wasting my life. I’m believing in God to work in Jack’s heart and make him the person He wants him to be. I am also believing God is working in my own heart, making me the person He wants me to be.What Marilyn Learned
Marilyn learned that she need not depend upon her husband to make her happy by his behavior toward her. Marilyn couldn’t change Jack; all she could do was change her reaction to Jack’s behavior and hope that God would change Jack. Soon Marilyn began seeing the better qualities in Jack.
As a result of Marilyn’s new behavior, Jack began to enjoy her company more. When Marilyn stopped behaving in punishing ways toward him, he spontaneously reduced his critical and inconsiderate actions.
Often, but not always, relationships change dramatically for the better when one person drops the misbeliefs that generate and perpetuate bitterness and anger. Always the person who works to change misbeliefs will benefit even if the other person does not change.
The constant repeating of MISBELIEFS is what sustains and perpetuates angry resentment. Constant repeating of the TRUTH generates health and peace.
Common Misbeliefs Concerning Anger
1) Anger is bad and if I’m a good Christian, I will never get angry.
2) Anger always means to yell and throw things and do whatever it takes to drain off the emotion.
3) If I do get angry, it’s always better for me to swallow the anger than to express it.
4) I have every right to be angry when another person does not live up to my expectations. I have no choice but to stay angry as long as things don’t change.
5) It is outrageous and insufferable when others do things I don’t like, or if they fail to treat me as well as I ought to be treated.
You may have one or more of these disbeliefs. They are lies and distortions. They have power and they cause suffering. Now here is the truth:
1) Anger is not always bad.
Jesus was angry a number of times and never sinned once. Paul wrote: Be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your wrath. (Eph. 4:26) What we do when we are angry can be sinful. He is telling us to deal with the issue promptly.
2) Sometimes it’s better to express your anger.
You can say: What you did (said) hurts me and I’m angry about it. I’d like you to stop.
3) Anger does not mean throwing things or yelling.
Our emotions are not a kind of gas or fluid which must be expelled so that we don’t explode. Anger is a behavior. Anger is responses of your body and mind to stimuli. When the stimulus is withdrawn, the anger ceases.
4) Anger Is A Choice
I do not have every right to remain angry when another person doesn’t live up to my expectations. I do have a choice about whether or not I remain angry.
When you STOP telling yourself how unfair or unjust your treatment has been and how miserable you are,
you will cease to be angry.
Anger And Self-Talk
There is no necessary connection between another person’s behavior and your anger. You are angry because of your own self-talk, not because of another person’s behavior. Other people cannot force you to remain in a stew over their behavior. This is something you do to yourself. You make yourself angry by what you tell yourself.
We waste a lot of time and energy when we brood over the offenses of others against us. After all, we believe that human nature is quite capable of evil. Then why are we so surprised when someone hurts us? Again, you can’t be hurt or angered until you help the offending person hurt or anger you by what you tell yourself. The simple brief emotion of anger is normal. The anger which explodes into rage or stews in bitterness is maladaptive and sinful.
When Anger Is A Problem
Anger becomes a problem when it is made worse or perpetuated by disbeliefs, disbeliefs such as I must never get angry. This one leads to the self-deceptive words I’m not angry, when one is plainly doing hostile, angry things and even hurting others.
Christians are often prime targets for such deception, thinking that they must be nice people–always smiling, above all, super people who are perpetually happy no matter what. When they are hurt and react with genuine anger, they hide it and cover it up with religious sounding words, smiles, grins, shrugs and silence. That’s what Jack & Marilyn were doing.
Do not let angry misbeliefs have any room in your mind without IMMEDIATELY coming against them with the truth.
Application 2: Misbeliefs And Depression
Counselors often deal with depressed people. You know of the violence that such people can inflict upon innocent people. But depression usually doesn’t show up in that dramatic of a fashion. Depressed people are usually a lot more quiet about it and we may not even know they are depressed until the suicide threat or attempt is made. Maybe we should learn a little more about it and the role that self-talk plays in depression.
The Misbelief in Depression
Depression has been called the “common cold” of the Mental Health field. Just about everyone will encounter it at one time during life. The Counselors say that Depression is Anger turned inward. It again is inevitably intertwined with your self-talk, assuming that this depression is not organically based. Symptoms often are: Lack of Sleep, No energy, No interest in life, Morning being the worst time of the day, etc.
In spite of the inability of the person to explain how he got that way, it is extremely rare for depression to occur without provocation. The disbeliefs that cause depression can become activated by a single event. The event represents a loss of some kind–a death in the family, loss of health, financial reversal, an accident, a divorce and situations where rejection, fear, and low self-esteem are triggered.
Any of these events can be an opportunity for the Old evil foe to slip a few suggestions into a person’s self-talk. A college student may tell himself: “Boy, you sure a dumb. You failed your math exam. What are you doing in college anyhow? Look at all the money you’re wasting! You’ll never make it!”
The Depressive Triad
1) Devaluation of self: “Boy, you sure are dumb.”
2) Devaluation of the situation: “Lately life has been a drag; Nothing is worth doing; I don’t know why I get out of bed!”
3) Devaluation of one’s prospects for the future: “You’ll never make it. You’ll never amount to anything. Life is hopeless.”
Let’s apply the depressive triad as it relates to various misbeliefs.
Application 3: Dealing With Misbeliefs
When we lose someone or something important to us, we will feel hurt, yes; but if the hurt deepens to despondency and depression and remains that way for weeks or months, the cause is not the loss but the misbelief. Two misbeliefs under gird this kind of thinking:
1) God is not the source of life. Man is.
The untruth here is that nothing and nobody but God is crucial to anyone. This truth is revealed in the First Commandment. As Luther said, “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.”
2) Since I lost “____”, my world has nothing left any more.
Many of us have told ourselves that we couldn’t live without someone or something. Then we lose that person or thing and we do recover. The truth is a person can lose health, reputation, vision, hearing, legs, hands, even family members, money, homes, physical attractiveness, life goals and plans–and yet recover and go on living a rewarding and meaningful life.
Apply The Three-Step Method
Now let’s get some practice in what Dr. Backus has taught us. First let’s review the 3-step method for Telling Yourself The Truth..
The Three Steps
1) Locate your misbeliefs,
2) Remove them, and
3) Replace your misbeliefs with the truth.
We all want to be happy–the Bill of Rights guarantees Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Keeping in mind that happiness is most often tied to what happens to you, we need a way to cope with what happens to us so that we may have the joy that God promises us in His Word.
The Bible uses the term “blessed.” Blessed–fortunate, happy, enviable–is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly….But his delight and desire are in the law of the Lord and on His law–the precepts, the instructions, the teachings of God.
Those who have been catechized in the Lutheran Church have probably memorized the keys to happiness in the Sixth Petition of Luther’s Catechism. After we pray: Lead us not into temptation, Martin Luther taught us:
“What does this mean?
God indeed tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world and our flesh may not deceive us, nor seduce us into misbelief, despair and other great shame and vice, and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and obtain the victory.” (from Luther’s Small Catechism, CPH)
Truth Is The Key
Jesus in John 8:31-32 said,
“If you hold to my teaching, you are truly my disciples and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (NIV).
Misbelief therapy involves putting the truth into our value systems, our demands, our expectations and our assumptions, as well as into the words we tell ourselves. Jesus Christ is the living Truth. When we inject the truth into our every thought, taking a therapeutic broom and sweeping away the lies and misbeliefs which have enslaved us, we find our lives greatly changed for the better.
While it is true that this is the method Dr. Backus and a number of other counselors follow, one need not necessarily call for an appointment. No, Dr. Backus, along with writer Marie Chapian, have done us the service of putting many of his insights into a book that we may become our own counselors, so that we may live happily with that person with whom you must spend the rest of your life–yourself.
The idea is for you to talk to yourself in such a way as to be your own therapist. Of course, some will need the services of a Professional and others will need help from a group or from a friend.
Dr. Backus and his staff have done follow-up studies with clients with whom he has used his Misbelief Therapy over a 6-month period. The results were gratifying. 95% of the clients treated at the Center had improved. That compares to 67% with other methods of therapy. The difference, Dr. Backus says, is the Word of God. These skills truly are skills you will want to use for the rest of your life.
Part IV: Misbeliefs In Life
What is Anxiety? Anxiety is:
1) Fear in the absence of real danger,
2) Overestimation of the probability of danger and exaggeration of its degree of terribleness, and
3) Imagined negative results.
Some Scriptures that are helpful for telling yourself the truth if you suffer from anxiety. These include, for example, II Corinthians 4:17, Luke. 10:19 and 11:9, James 4:7, I John 4:4, and Isaiah. 40:31. In spite of these and other clear witnesses of Scriptures, anxiety can still play a haunting role in your life.
Now let’s look at an example of how misbeliefs play a role in the life of others. The following examples demonstrates that both adults and children encounter the effects of misbelief in their lives.
Misbelief In Anxiety: Suzy
Suzy is stacking the dishes in the dishwasher for her mother when she accidentally drops one and breaks it. Her heart pounds. She knows this means punishment. Suzy has been conditioned to feel this way. When her mother enters the kitchen and sees the broken glass, she calls Suzy clumsy, careless and useless, raves about the glass being fine crystal, and wallops her.
Suzy feels the same fear when she is out among people. She can’t stay upright on her roller skates. As a result, the other children ridicule her. Her father often calls her lazy and her mother yells when she doesn’t perform according to her expectations.
Suzy teaches herself how to be anxious. So does Carol, a 22-year-old young woman. She has spent several years of her life piling up anxiety responses. She is riddled with fears and can’t force herself to go out and get a job. In desperation, her parents insist that she see a Psychologist.
“I can’t get a job,” she says. “I’ve tried and I just can’t. I hate job interviews; They scare me.” “Why is that?” the Counselor asks. “Well, they’re awful, that’s why. The job market is tight and there are so few openings.”
By her 8th session, Carol is able to identify her thoughts and beliefs. She identifies the feared objects as other people. Her inability to land a job is not due to the job market but due to the anxiety she suffers at the thought of going out and being with people. She fears what people could do to her.
“Carol, you said you hated being in crowds.” That’s right, I really do hate it. “What could a crowd do to you?” Well, they might make fun of me or laugh at me. “Would that be terrible?” Yes, it would be horrible. I would hate that. “Would it really be the end of the world for you if someone laughed or made fun of you?” Well, I’d hate it, but I guess it actually wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Carol’s Big Step
Carol didn’t realize it, but she had just made a big and very important step of progress, one that you can also make if you suffer from anxiety.
1) Carol listened to herself and heard what was really going on in her mind.
2) By listening she realized she had been telling herself that to be laughed at and made fun of would be horrible and terrible–A misbelief.
3) She then argued that misbelief with the truth by telling herself that although she wouldn’t like the situation, it would not be the end of the world.
- The Truth About “Awfulizing”
People who suffer from anxiety tell themselves, “If the thing I worry about actually happened, it would wipe me out. It would be awful, horrible.”
Dr. Albert Ellis, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Rational Psychotherapy, calls this “awfulizing.” Anxious people do a lot of it. Little Suzy tells herself: It would be awful if my classmates were mean to me. Carol worries about being in a crowd of people because she fears they might make fun of her or laugh at her. She will overcome this lie only if she De-awfulizes the thought in her mind and replaces it with the truth.
Some common lies are:
1) He/she/they might not like me. That would be terrible.
2) I might not meet people’s expectations of me. That would be terrible.
3) I might be rejected. That would be terrible.
4) I might fail. That would be terrible.
5) I might say or do something dumb. That would be terrible.
6) Once I’ve gained happiness, I might lose it. That would be terrible.
7) I might not look as good as other people. That would be terrible.
8) He/She/They might discover what a nothing I really am. That would be terrible.
9) Nobody will ever love me. That would be terrible.
10) I might get hurt. That would be terrible.
11) I might be asked to do something I don’t know how to do. That would be terrible.
12) I might lose everything I’ve got. That would be terrible.
13) I could die. That would be terrible.
- Externally-Driven Misbeliefs
The Central Theme: What Others Think
The central theme running through the misbeliefs in anxiety is that what other people think of me is of such crucial importance that I must anticipate it in advance of all my actions. I must do all I can in order to prevent others from thinking badly of me. If they think badly of me, it will be a mortal blow to me. It would be terrible.
Nearly all anxious people believe and tell themselves that they are in danger of other people’s reactions to them. These words, like all misbeliefs, are lies from the enemy. While we are certainly glad if others think well of us and love us, we can still live very well if we don’t have the affection and approval of all other people.
“Jesus never said, ‘Love others INSTEAD of your self.
What He did say was, ‘Love others AS yourself.’ “
The Bible does not tell us to please everyone on earth. It does not tell us to work overtime trying to get people to love us. Jesus never told us to go out and take a course on how to get people to like us. He told us to love Him, trust Him, have faith in Him, glorify Him, and to genuinely care about others.
Whom Do We Want To Please?
The price an anxious person pays to please people is too great. Jesus, above all others, demonstrated that if a person is really serious about pleasing God, there will be times when his behavior will be just the opposite of what people expect of him. See Luke 6:26.
Jesus himself wasn’t loved by everyone and still isn’t. Many found fault with Him and He was perfect! When He was here on earth He made the leaders and molders of public opinion quite upset with His social behavior. He befriended prostitutes and tax collectors and thieves and sought them out. That did not make him Mr. Popular with the religious folk of the day.
People found fault with the way He talked and worshiped; they even criticized the way he ate. But He wasn’t devastated by what others thought of Him because He kept His eye on His Father in heaven and on doing His will.
In fact, Jesus had joy through it all and He says to us My joy I give unto you. Paul knew this joy too and he knew how to handle criticism and he knew how to talk himself out of anxiety. (See I Corinthians 4).
We need to remember that some anxiety is hereditary and can be conquered only with medication. Some people will conquer their anxiety only by consultation with the a trained professional, either a clinical Psychologist or a Psychiatrist. Many others have anxiety purely because of the lies they are telling themselves.
It is important that individuals suffering such anxiety see a good therapist skilled in Cognitive Psychology (many do). If individuals are working on themselves, they must learn to journal, i.e. to place the misbelief in one column and the truth in the other (as in the example of Jerry above). They must also deal with their misbeliefs on a regular basis in the way Backus described or they will find this method unworkable. You can’t “do it in your head.” Wherever possible, Scripture must be used to oppose the Misbeliefs, as Backus does in his book.
NOBODY other than you has the power to make you miserable.
That power is YOURS alone.
YOU make yourself miserable by the things you tell yourself.
Rev. Wayne Dobratz
Telling Yourself The Truth
It is almost impossible to battle misbeliefs in your head. Learn to journal your misbeliefs and the truths that you tell yourself to combat them. The best way to do this is to draw yourself a table in your notebook similar to the one below. Wherever possible, use the truth of God’s Word to combat your misbeliefs.
From The Editor:
Pastors and other professionals may tend to ignore the need for professional assistance. In some cases the application of a self-help cognitive approach may not work without necessary professional support and guidance.
The consequences for overlooking necessary intervention can be devastating especially in on-going circumstances. If your anxiety is obsessive, dominating your thinking, and or interfering with your life, do not even try to deal with it by yourself.
Save yourself the potentially excruciating pain of deep anxiety by dealing with it in the presence of a competent professional early on. It’s better to have sought professional guidance and found it unnecessary than to have deemed it unnecessary and never gone at all.
May God bless your discovery of the Truth in your life!
Thomas F. Fischer