Dear Readers - It’s a mantra of mine regarding this column: The most important relationship we each have, is with ourselves.
Before there’s the other in our grown-up lives, there’s our self-focused childhood, then the experimenting teenager, until as adults, we confront the ongoing impact of the sound of chatter inside our own heads.
No wonder I was eager to talk recently with the award-winning University of Michigan neuroscientist and best-selling author, Dr. Ethan Kross, about his bestselling book Chatter: The Voice in Our Head.
Scores of relationship-seekers have written me during this socially nerve-wracking pandemic about unhappy “chats” with themselves, as even online dating became more elusive.
Examples: A man who “liked” several women’s dating-site profiles, but never got a response. A woman who’s talked online with someone several times, then never heard from that person again.
It’s for them and countless others dealing with “negative chatter” in their self-image, that Dr. Kross says he wrote his book - to share information that normally isn’t taught (or addressed) till we’re stuck with potentially self-defeating views.
In many cases, it’s our “inner voice” that’s causing us to feel sadness and anxiety.
Yet, as Kross enthuses, it’s “a remarkable tool, providing your own ability to silently use (positive) language” to help you plan, stimulate your own thoughts, and apply self-control.
(Consider the benefit to your relationship of just telling yourself that a particular disagreement’s just “not worth a fight”).
That inner voice also helps people retell their own story rather than accept chatter that clouds their self-image. “When you harness your inner voice, you free the positive side, and stop beating yourself up,” Kross says.
Asked how people can do that on their own, he speaks of “three buckets” of use:
1) Using your own name, talk silently to yourself as you would to another (as in, Okay, Ellie, it’s time to focus on your work);
2) Use your inner voice for mental time-travel, e.g., asking yourself, how much will this boring date matter to me in a couple of weeks?
3) Walk in Nature. When we’re surrounded by interesting things, the mind drifts to restore positive thoughts and experience the sense of awe of a beautiful sunset.
For those who once thought talking to yourself was a quirky oddball thing, the science and hope that evolves from Kross’ Chatter, is that, in your relationship with yourself, it gives each of us a lot of choice and agency in how we create our own story about ourselves and engage with the world.
My take on all this: Not only is the Self relationship most important, but you can benefit from the connections with others in your life, by using your inner voice chatter as a positive tool.
For daters, this book brings new insights, and hopes.
Some tips: Venting about a romance that didn’t work out is fine if you have a friend who not only listens but empathizes and contributes positive feedback. However, venting on social media just releases toxic language and thoughts that keep you beating yourself up, mentally and emotionally.
When you meet someone new to date, tell the good, healthy stories about yourself, stories that make sense about who you really are. Stop telling yourself the worst things possible about your own nature. Kross stresses, “When you say self-defeating things to others from allowing negative chatter in your head, you can push away those who really love and care about you.”
FEEDBACK Regarding men who ogle women because of their breasts (Jan.12, Dec. 22):
Reader – “The letter-writer who thinks getting a breast reduction is the answer to their not being ogled is wrong! That doesn’t answer/absolve men who are obsessed with a woman's breast size.
“Whenever someone undergoes surgery, there’s a risk to life, it’s not like getting a pedicure! It’s time in 2022 that women don’t have to change their body shape so that they aren't objectified by leering men. It’s not okay to have your breasts reduced to prevent perverted males from leering.
“No men or women should be subjected to a redesign of their body to suit others. Consider how many women have previously undergone cosmetic surgery with disastrous results.
“The letter-writer almost sounded like women need to get breast surgery because they’re the cause of men who have a problem and can't stop themselves from leering at women.”
Tip of the day:
Don’t just listen to your inner voice, use it in relationships to maintain a healthy, positive self-image. Just in time for Valentine’s Day.