What to do when that punishing inner voice takes over?
When Ethan Kross received a threatening letter, he went into meltdown. For three days the voices in his head incessantly replayed one horrifying scenario after another. He couldn’t stop the chatter in his head, which was ironic, as he is an expert on emotion and self-control. The letter had come after a television appearance, causing Kross to chastise himself for putting his family and himself at risk.
Then Kross stumbled across something quite by accident. Instead of his internal monologue repeating “I” all the time, he started to use his own name, Ethan. By addressing himself in a more formal way his anxious inner voice was calmed. Distance and perspective were created, putting a stressful situation into a more rational context.
Put simply, this is the case that Chatter makes. We allow our inner voice to obsess us and run rampant; we get into a loop of negative thoughts, and when we share our concerns with friends and sympathisers, this doesn’t help either, only reinforcing the bad feelings. The best way to tame the voices in our head is to try and create distance and put things in perspective. When we think about our problems and worry about our standing in the world, or how the world perceives us, it’s best to look at the big picture.
Chatter uses a lot of science to prove its point. Interestingly, using your own name when ruminating on negative thoughts has been proven in laboratory settings to make subjects feel better and calmer. The book offers other techniques and suggestions: keeping busy, sticking to routines and ensuring an orderly environment are methods of calming runaway inner voices.
All this sounds very promising, in theory, but how effective these tools are in practice could be another matter for many people. When the mind is in a fully blown panic, it can take days to calm down. Nevertheless, Chatter offers a concise explanation of the psychology of the inner voice. Such self-awareness coupled with the tools he provides could help some troubled souls.
Science we’ve been over before, but worth a look in.
Chatter: The Voice in our Head and How to Harness It, by Ethan Kross. Published by Vermilion. $35
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books