Talking to yourself is something that many people do to help themselves get their thoughts in order, or decide what course of action they should take. While there are certain types of talking to yourself, out loud or otherwise, that can indicate a larger issue or some form of mental illness, most of the time this is considered a healthy behavior. Some people simply do it to help them focus and clear out any extra thoughts that may be cluttering the mind. But others engage in this behavior compulsively and cannot stop even when they try, which makes the behavior troubling. There are several simple ways to tell whether or not talking to yourself is healthy, or a sign of a larger mental problem.
Is Talking to Yourself a Sign of Mental Illness?
Many people associate talking to yourself with mental illness or an unbalanced mind. There is some truth to this view, as talking out loud to yourself can be a sign of some types of mental illness or psychological disorders. The most severe among these disorders is called schizophrenia. In the public eye, schizophrenics are often seen as having multiple personalities living within one body, and transitioning from one personality to another within a short span of time. According to WebMD, schizophrenia is not the presence of multiple personalities in one brain, as it is often portrayed on television and in the movies. Rather, it is an inability to tell reality from hallucinations or delusions, which can seem quite real. This disorder can cause patients vivid hallucinations, which they will then respond to out loud. When approached by other people, they may strike out or simply ignore the interruption and continue talking out loud. This looks like someone talking to themselves out loud, but it’s actually just a symptom of a larger illness. Sometimes the hallucination takes the form of someone in the patient’s mind, trying to control them and tell them what to do. Other times, the patient becomes convinced that someone is trying to kill them. Schizophrenics may also make little to no sense when they talk out loud, and their thoughts can be very hard for mentally healthy people to follow. This type of talking to yourself out loud is very different from a healthy self talk.
Is it Normal to Talk to Yourself?
Some people feel weird talking out loud to themselves when there is no one else around. You might get weird looks if you stand in the street and talk to yourself at full volume, causing others to think there is something wrong with you. But just talking to yourself doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with you. Talking to yourself is actually a very common trait that many people engage in, and it can be a positive way to encourage or motivate yourself. Psychology World, a psychology website, says that certain types of self talk are in fact a sign of mental health. The site identifies a few different ways talking to yourself out loud can be healthy, including:
- Complimentary self-talk. When you need some praise for a job well done, or just want to boost your own self esteem, talking out loud to yourself can be a viable option. Instead of waiting to get validation from someone else, saying positive statements out loud to yourself can help you validate your feelings of accomplishment. If you are kind and complimentary when you talk to yourself, there is no reason to stop. Some examples of this type of self talk include things like “great job today” or “way to go!”
- Motivational self-talk. There is no better way to get your energy level up than talking to yourself in your head or out loud. No one knows better than you what kind of pep talk you need, after all. This kind of self-talk is often the source of humor for comedians and regular people who don’t understand exactly how it works. Telling yourself “you can do it!” or “you’re special!” can be exactly the thing you need to go out and conquer the world on that particular day.
- Outer dialogue self-talk. This type of self-talk is common when you have racing thoughts due to a stressful situation or upcoming decision. Outer dialogue can be listing out loud the pros and cons of a situation, or talking yourself through a difficult situation step by step. Listing each step of an upcoming job or chore out loud can help you to get through a task or decision quickly.
- Goal setting self-talk. This type of talking to yourself can help you achieve something, whether an academic or sporting goal. Saying out loud the steps you need to perform can actually help you to focus on them because they seem more concrete and real once you say them out loud.
So Is Talking to Yourself Normal?
If you are wondering whether your habit of talking to yourself is healthy or not, take a moment to assess your habit and the type of things you say to yourself when you talk out loud. The only way to truly know if you are talking to yourself in a healthy way or an unhealthy way is to consult with a mental health professional. A diagnosis of mental illness or disorder is not to be taken lightly, and any responsible doctor will conduct many tests and evaluations before assigning this diagnosis to a patient. But one way to narrow down the possibility of a larger issue is to look for other signs of mental illness in your day to day life. If talking to yourself out loud is the only symptom you exhibit, chances are you are in good mental health. But if you do in fact have a disorder, there are other symptoms of schizophrenia that you may experience, including:
- Going in and out of lucidity
- Inability to distinguish between reality and hallucinations
- Sudden extreme behavioral episodes
- Jumbled speech
- Flat vocal tone
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, schizophrenia is a genetic disease, meaning that it runs in families. If you have a close relative, like a parent or sibling with schizophrenia, your chance of having the disorder is greatly increased. Those with a more distant relative, like a grandparent or cousin with the disorder, also have a higher chance than the general population. If you do not have any family member with the disorder, your chance of having schizophrenia is relatively low. The disorder only affects about one percent of the American population in total.
What to Say When Talking to Yourself
Talking to yourself can be a great way to stay on task or decrease stress in a difficult situation. If you want to engage in positive self talk that will benefit you, make sure that you use positive, upbeat statements when you talk to yourself. When you are talking about yourself, try to concentrate on only positive thoughts that will boost your mood and motivation. Avoid using negative words or dwelling on the things you may have done wrong. Some positive statements you can make to yourself include:
- You tried as hard as you could today
- You did better than you ever have before
- Great work today!
- There is satisfaction to be had in giving something your all
Some statements to try and avoid:
- You always do this or that
- You are so dumb
- There is no way out of this situation
- You’ve really made a mess of it this time
Another way to engage in positive self talk is to choose a mantra, which is a statement or personal slogan that you can repeat out loud to yourself in order to focus and stay calm. Mantras were originally used in ancient religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. While these older mantras were composed of religiously significant phrases, a modern mantra can be as simple as something like “slow and steady wins the race” or “keep believing in yourself.” Repeating this phrase over and over again can actually be soothing to the mind.
How Can You Stop Talking to Yourself?
While talking to yourself can be a perfectly normal behavior, you may still want to stop doing it, whether to make a better impression on others or for your own reasons. If you are really determined to stop talking to yourself, one good way can be to get your thoughts out on paper instead of speaking them out loud. Some of the ways you can begin doing this include:
- Start keeping a daily journal, diary or agenda. Chronicle your feelings, the situations that cause you stress and your daily schedule. This can help you identify the times of day or places that cause you the most stress or make you feel overwhelmed.
- Make to-do lists daily and check items off as you finish them. This will help keep your mind clear and help you organize your thoughts externally, without having to say them out loud.
- Keep a pad of sticky notes with you so you can write down ideas, thoughts and to-do list items as soon as you think of them. Put them on your bathroom mirror, fridge door or any other location that you visit every day to ensure you don’t forget about them.
- Send yourself emails recapping your important thoughts and tasks at certain set points throughout the day, such as right before you go to bed.
Providing yourself with a distraction during the time that you typically talk to yourself the most is another way to cut back on this habit. Just like any other habit, it is important to replace the old behavior with a new, healthier behavior. If you find you talk to yourself during your morning commute, grab a newspaper to read or listen to music through headphones as you ride the bus or train to work. If you often talk to yourself while on the treadmill at the gym, get a buddy to go with you and make conversation with them instead. If loneliness when you’re home alone drives you to talking to yourself out loud, grab the phone and catch up with an old friend instead.