Escaping Troublesome Gulch: Using Your Internal Voices & Converting Negative Self Talk

Troublesome Gulch is the name of a road in the town one over.  It happens to be where a famous ex-Senator lives who certainly created his share of troubles for himself.   However his internal dialogue framed it, he behaved as if the rules didn’t apply to him.  All it cost him was his Senate seat and his candidacy for President of the US.

Hopefully your internal voices are giving you support that is much more helpful and personally ecological!

Here in this little essay Steve Andreas lays out some very subtle ways to put your internal dialogue even more effectively to work for you, instead of vice versa.

This guide is excerpted from Steve Andreas’ new eBook, “Help With Negative Self Talk.”

I was first impressed with Steve’s writing and editing when I read “Heart of the Mind” 20 years ago, back when I first started seriously studying NLP.  In Volume One of “Help With Negative Self Talk”  Steve really impressed me with the sense that the “old Master” was back.

This excerpt is a great example of Steve’s ability to easily give you some very sophisticated structures for resolving conflicts that are expressed as internal dialogue.


Tom Dotz

Communicating With A Troublesome Internal Voice

One of the most interesting and useful aspects of a troublesome internal voice is that you can communicate with it in exactly the same way you would with someone else in the real world around you. You can tell it or ask it literally anything, and receive an answer. Most people just passively listen to an internal voice, or they try to argue or fight with it. If you argue or fight with it, that will have the same kind of results that it has in the real world; contention and conflict, but seldom any resolution. In fact, that will usually make the internal voice even stronger and more oppositional. Even if you are successful in shouting it down and overcoming it, that won’t really eliminate it permanently—it will come back to haunt you.

In the previous chapter we showed how listening to a voice, and joining with it can be quite useful. Now I want to use this as a starting point and foundation for doing something even more important and useful.

Rather than thinking about a troublesome voice as an enemy, you can think of it as if it were a friend who isn’t very good at communicating. Instead of trying to struggle with it, fight it, or to run away from it, you can learn to join with it, listen more carefully to what it is saying, and find out more about it. When you really listen to a voice, and speak back to it respectfully, it will gradually become more reasonable, and you can begin to learn more about it.

Of course, just as in the real world, you may not initially receive an answer, particularly if your relationship with your voice has not been very good. If you have fought with it for years, or tried to eliminate it, it may initially be very antagonistic and not want to talk to you at all.

For instance, when one man first tried to communicate with a troublesome internal voice, the answer he received was a very loud, “Screw you!!!” When he continued to speak to the voice in a friendly way, gently requesting an explanation, the voice replied, “You have completely ignored me for twenty-five years—and now you want to talk to me? Screw you!!!”

In a situation like this it can be very useful to apologize sincerely. You can explain that you have only just learned that it is possible to communicate directly with it, and ask it to please forgive your stupidity. If you continue to speak to it respectfully, eventually it will answer you, and you can begin to have a more friendly dialogue.

When an internal voice criticizes you, reminds you of past mistakes, predicts future failures or other unpleasant events, that voice is stating a conclusion based on some event or set of events. What the voice says is not a set of facts, it is an opinion, a generalization, or a judgment about a set of facts. Usually the event or events that the opinion is based on is completely omitted from the statement itself.

For instance, when a voice says, “You’re stupid,” or “I’m stupid,” that is not a fact, it is an opinion about some event that is not mentioned at all. It is easy to conclude that the word “stupid” applies to everything you do, everywhere, throughout all time, extending inexorably into your future. If you think about it in that way it is natural to feel very bad—or even depressed or suicidal!

The actual event that the opinion is based on might be a single event, like having done poorly on a single test in a single class. Furthermore, it might be that you didn’t have time to prepare, you were sick, or you forgot that there was a test, or you had some other reason for having done poorly. If that was the case, not only was it a single isolated event, it had nothing to do with being stupid; it had to do with being too busy, or forgetful, or even something else that was completely out of your control.

Even when a voice mentions a specific event, such as, “I can’t believe you said that to her; you’re really insensitive,” that still brings up only a very small part of what actually happened, namely one sentence that you said to someone else. That omits all the other information about that event—all the other things you said and did, who else was there, what was happening, how you felt at the time, and the larger context—all of which contributes to your understanding.

Often a voice will take a past event and cast it into the future as a prediction. Not only did you fail in the past, you will fail in the same way in the future. This kind of prediction may sometimes be your own conclusion about some event, but very often it is word for word what someone else said to you.

When you hear only a voice and its conclusion, that omits all the information about the speaker, what happened at that time, how that person was feeling, and the larger context in which those words were said. All those elements contribute to the meaning of what was said. Recovering this additional information often spontaneously changes the meaning of the event, so that you can come to a different conclusion, and a different response to it.

For instance, one man’s internal voice originated from his father, who often criticized and “put him down” for what he did. When he saw his father’s face, he could see the worry lines that indicated that his father was really concerned about him, and wanted the best for him. That completely changed his response to the words that his father said.

Retrieving Information

Missing information can be divided into several major categories, and we can recover it by asking the familiar five questions that we use to gather information about any event: Who? What? Where? When? and How?

You will notice that “Why?” is not included in this list. “Why?” is much less useful, because it doesn’t elicit information about the event itself, but about someone’s understanding or conclusion about the event. Asking “Why?” would only take us to the conclusion that we have already made, based on limited information, so that wouldn’t change the meaning of what the voice says. Our goal is to gather more information in order to be able to reach a more useful conclusion.

As you ask yourself the questions below, it is important to notice what your internal experience is. It is not necessary to answer the questions verbally. In fact, if you answer them verbally, that will tend to divert your attention from your experience, and it is this experience that can enrich and change the meaning of an internal voice. The question is only useful as a way to direct your attention.

Although each question directs our attention to a somewhat different aspect of our experience, you will find that they often overlap. When you ask “Who?” you may recover information about “What?” “Where? “When?” or “How?” as well—and that will be true of each of the questions. The only reason for asking each question in turn is to make sure that you examine all the different aspects of an event thoroughly, in order to recover as much information as possible.

Excerpted from “Help With Negative Self Talk Volume 2” Chapter 2: “Retrieving and Clarifying Information”

PS Yes, Volume One is still available here,  Volume Two is too, and no,  you don’t have to read them in sequence.  In fact, as this excerpt demonstrates,you can dip in and enjoy sampling here and there.  $15 each or $25 for both.

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