ERIC Identifier: ED361813
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Weikle, Julia E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Self-Talk & Self-Health. ERIC Digest.
This digest examines the ways in which self-talk, or inner-speech, can help
change people's health states. Communication and medical professionals have
researched the psychophysiological components of self-talk, to conclude that
what people say to themselves does affect their ability to combat and ward off
illnesses. Individuals can tap into the power of their own self-talk by
recognizing it for what it is, reducing harmful negativity, and increasing the
number of positive internal messages.
To determine "where" and "how" self-talk
fits into the scheme of intrapersonal communication, and communication as a
whole, some definitions must be derived. The reality of emotional choice--that
people have definite control over their emotional state--is known in various
circles as self-talk, intrapersonal communication (IAPC), imaging, and
visualization (Weaver and Cottrell, 1987). Self-talk is part of IAPC, but the
part cannot be equal to the whole.
Having concluded that self-talk and IAPC are separate but related, what is
IAPC? Shedletsky (1989) places it into the traditional model of communication,
but all elements of "sender," "receiver," and "transmitter" are carried out
within individual people. Pearson and Nelson (1985) expand that definition as
follows: Intrapersonal communication is not restricted to "talking to
ourselves"; it also includes such activities as internal problem solving,
resolution of internal conflict, planning for the future, emotional catharsis,
evaluation of ourselves and others.
Fletcher (1989) adds the physiological dimension to IAPC. Fletcher defines,
"Intrapersonal communication...is the process interior to the individual by
which reality evolves and is maintained." It is a process which involves other
parts of the body including the nervous system, organs, muscles, hormones, and
neurotransmitters. IAPC, as well as the internal thoughts and language
associated with it, serve as another "control" system in the body, on much the
same level as the body's other systems. This is the beginning of the mind-body,
or psychophysiological, connection.
Medical professionals are beginning to take note of mind-body
interrelationships in their treatment of patients. The basis of this is the
recognition of the functions of inner speech. These functions are to:
coordinate other connective sensory and motor functions within the brain
to integrate and link the individual to the social order
to regulate human behavior through spoken language
to provide for human mentation as reflected in mental processes and activities
Self-talk is a health behavior that has potentially far-reaching effects.
Although it will most likely be used by those who have a high internal locus of
control and place a high value on health, it can also help relatively healthy
people in health "maintenance" programs. Self-talk is categorized as being
positive or negative. As its label implies, positive self-talk has good
implications for people's mental and physical well-being. However, the negative
is not all bad. The key to using self-talk is to strive for an appropriate
balance (which is a tenet of holistic medicine itself) between the two.
The use of positive self-talk has been linked to the reduction of stress.
Less stress, in turn, can effect other positive health changes. Self-talk, like
thoughts, is not neutral because it triggers behavior in either a positive or
negative direction. Both thoughts and self-talk are based on beliefs--which "can
exist with or without evidence that they are accurate" (Grainger, 1989)--which
are formed early in life. Beliefs shape our self-talk, which in turn affects our
However, negative thinking as the "thinking of choice," may not be so bad,
because it heightens people's sensitivity to the situation they are facing. They
are likely to think more clearly. Grainger says, "Negative thinking, then, is
the most productive, the most useful, and the healthiest thinking to adopt "when
risk is high."
Instead of categorizing negative self-talk as "negative," it might be better
to call it "logical and accurate" self-talk. Braiker (1989) emphasizes the
"responsible" use of self-talk. She warns against confusing positive inner
dialogue with positive thinking, happy affirmations, or self-delusions. Logical,
accurate self-talk recognizes personal short-comings, but also modifies them to
help people define a plan of correction.
DEVELOPING A POSITIVE MENTAL ATTITUDE
A positive mental
attitude as a basis for self-talk does not require self-delusion. The
development of optimistic thought patterns requires essentially three things:
recognizing self-talk for what it is, dealing with negative messages, and
harnessing the positive for the greater good of individual persons. By using
inner speech, people can influence their health states, but the benefits
potentially reach beyond that. To make self-talk positive, people must change
what goes into their subconscious. All this hinges on recognition of inner
Levine (1991) expands on the idea of noticing thought patterns. Regardless of
the thought type (positive or negative), she suggests people reflect upon the
antecedents to and the feelings about the particular thought. When people
determine which thoughts improve their sense of well-being, they can make those
thoughts occur more frequently.
Again, this does not imply that people who practice positive self-talk will
be a group of "happy campers." Negative inner speech can and does play a
constructive role in helping people create better realities for themselves. As
was previously stated, negative thoughts can trigger warning signals in
high-risk situations. The object is to deal with the underlying message, and
then move to correct the situation. Negative self-talk, like its label implies,
has a downside as well.
McGonicle (1988) categorizes "harmful" negativity as being "awfulistic"
(everything is catastrophic), "absolutistic" (using "must," "always," "never"),
or should-have self-talk ("I 'should have' done this"). These also are found on
what Braiker lists as "cognitive traps." Other elements include: all-or-nothing
thinking; discounting the positive; emotional reasoning; and personalization and
blame. Levine suggests examining "seedthoughts," sometimes mindlessly-used
cliches, for negative elements--either emotion or health related. For example,
thinking "I'm a nervous wreck," "I'm eaten up with anger," "That disease runs in
my family," and "Only the good die young" can undermine any positive thinking
people try to achieve. Therefore, individuals must replace these thoughts with
something more constructive.
In a society where people (especially females) are taught to downplay their
good points, developing positive self-talk might be difficult at first. It
necessitates a "reality-check." Most of the time, people are a lot "better"
(performance/ health-wise) than they previously concluded. The development of
positive personal speech requires that people take active roles in shaping
events in their lives, not to let life just "happen" to them. Keeping a journal,
using your name as you talk to yourself, and releasing pent-up feelings are some
of the ways Levine recommends becoming aware of and constructively using
Relaxation is also conducive to positive thinking. The flipside of that is to
reduce stress. Stress cannot be eliminated, but it can be managed. This can be
done by sharing feelings with another and confronting any conflict early on,
before the situation gets out of hand. Relaxation and less stress clarify and
change inner dialogues for the better which can effect like changes in health
Self-talk has been shown, in research by
medical and communication professionals, to have psychophysiological
underpinnings. Thought patterns generated by self-talk affect health-states.
What studies have shown has been supported by doctors and patients alike. People
can begin to harness the power in their minds by taking an active role in
deciding what to think, enhancing the positive messages they send themselves. It
also involves being realistic, identifying the causes for any negativity,
realizing it is a signal to act. By doing so, people can face challenges--health
related or otherwise--with the knowledge they can succeed if they literally "put
their minds to it."
Braiker, H.B. (1989). "The Power of Self-Talk." Psychology Today, December, pp. 23-27.
Fletcher, J.E. (1989). "Physiological Foundations of Intrapersonal
Communication." In Roberts & Watson (Eds.), Intrapersonal Communication
Processes (pp. 188-202). New Orleans: Spectra.
Grainger, R.D. (1991). "The Use--and Abuse--of Negative Thinking." American
Journal of Nursing, 91(8), 13-14.
Korba, R. (1989). "The Cognitive Psychophysiology of Inner Speech." In
Roberts & Watson (Eds.), Intrapersonal Communication Processes (pp.
217-242). New Orleans: Spectra.
Levine, B.H. (1991). Your Body Believes Every Word You Say: The Language of
the Body/Mind Connection. Boulder Creek, CA: Aslan.
McGonicle, D. (1988). "Making Self-Talk positive." American Journal of
Nursing, 88, 725-726.
Pearson, J.C., & Nelson, P.E. (1985). Understanding and Sharing: An
Introduction to Speech Communication (Third Edition) Dubuque, IA: William C.
Shedletsky, L.J. (1989). Meaning and Mind: An Intrapersonal Approach to Human
Communication. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication
Skills. [ED 308 566]
Weaver, R.L. and Cottrell, H.W. (1987). "Destructive Dialogue: Negative
Self-Talk and Effective Imaging." Paper presented at the Speech Communication
Association Meeting. [ED 290 176]