This article discusses possible neuropsychological mechanisms involved in self-talk, as well as its effect on emotional adaptation and experience in general.
An overweight woman has tried every diet conceivable with no lasting results. She finds herself adopting a simple stimulus-response approach to eating, to wit: whenever she is bored, she eats, whenever she is sad, she eats, whenever she is anxious she eats – and of course at meal time she overeats due to the need to manage the anxiety and frustration caused by her inability to control her eating. On one particular morning she is about to indulge in her third coffee roll, but then a sudden impulse crops up. She stops reaching for the roll and says to herself, “I’m not hungry, why the heck am I eating?” She finds that her appetite is diminished momentarily so she continues to cue herself in that way, with frequent overt “ self-lectures” and finds she can control her appetite more consistently.
A man with insomnia finds himself tossing and turning in the wee hours of them morning. He rolls to one side then another then summons a relaxing thought. An ocean scene. Yet he still cannot get to sleep. It seems each time he invokes a sleep-inducing mechanism it reminds him of the fact that he has insomnia. Else why think about oceans in the first place? He is caught in a trap. Any attempt to ameliorate his sleep problem reinforces the notion that he has a sleep problem. It is a vicious cycle and he becomes frustrated Then one evening, in a modest burst of anger he rises, looks at himself in the mirror and says: ”This whole sleeping thing is a real pain. I’m sick of worrying about it. So what if I don’t sleep?” At that point he experiences a wave of comfort, finds himself unexpectedly calm. His insomnia is relegated for the moment to an inconvenience rather than a matter of life and death. The next night he has another self-conversation, then another the next night, and a week later he finds his sleep patterns improving.