We’ve all been caught in that moment. We’re mumbling our to-do list aloud to ourselves and someone asks, “What?” “Uh, nothing,” we answer, embarrassed. So, is talking to yourself normal? As weird as it may seem—especially to onlookers—talking to yourself is totally OK, healthy even. Here, we talk to some experts on why having an out-loud convo with yourself is not so out of the ordinary.
Is It Weird That I Talk to Myself?
“It is definitely normal and very common to talk to yourself,” affirms psychologist Dr. Jeannette R. Bergfeld, of the Therapy Group of DC. Generally, we start talking to ourselves because we’re feeling some type of emotion, like we’re angry, nervous, frazzled, anxious or simply trying to focus. “Having a conversation with yourself can be a self-soothing tool to use when stressed or afraid,” psychologist Dr. Heather Stevenson says. “We do this when we talk ourselves through a scary or stressful experience by reassuring ourselves that everything will be OK or that we will get through whatever the issue is.”
Why Do People Talk to Themselves?
A one-on-one chat with yourself can also help you work through an issue you have with others. “Oftentimes, practicing conversations with ourselves about what and how we want to communicate with someone else can help boost our confidence and calm our nerves,” Dr. Stevenson explains. “For example, practicing what you want to say to your boss or partner if an issue comes up or you need to set a boundary.”
By helping you process a problem, “it can also give you greater insight into your feelings, the decisions you make in life and the blocks or issues that may come up,” she says. “Talking through why you are making a certain decision, why something is important to you, why you are feeling stuck in some area, why there may be resistance to doing something.”
When Is It Something More?
But there is a difference between folks experiencing healthy conversations with themselves and those who are experiencing psychotic symptoms such as auditory hallucinations and delusions, Dr. Stevenson says. “People with these symptoms often appear lost in their own world and unable to connect with someone else who may be right next to them.”
Why Some Therapists Even Recommend It
Overall, though, talking to yourself is a useful technique. In fact, many therapists advise their patients to practice talking to themselves to help them sort through concerns and problems. Dr. Stevenson says, “I often have clients practice talking with a younger or older version of themselves, talking with their body or journaling through conversations to help them not only learn to listen to and trust their own intuition, but also to gain a deeper awareness and connection with themselves.”
Plus, Dr. Bergfeld says, “it can even be a way to lighten your mood or prop yourself up when needed.” For example, saying “you've got this” or “keep going” during a hard workout. “I often encourage my clients to talk to themselves with compassion like they would a close friend when they're going through a hard time, such as putting a hand on your heart and saying something like ‘this is really hard. I'm going through a lot right now.’” But Bergfeld warns to “watch out for times where you get stuck in negative and destructive self-talk. “Examples of this include ‘I'm always failing at everything’ or ‘nobody really cares about me.’ If you notice yourself getting stuck in this kind of thinking, you probably want to think about finding a therapist or psychiatrist to talk to about these thought patterns.”
How to Avoid Negative Self-Talk
Dr. Stevenson agrees, adding that “talking to yourself can fall into unhelpful territory when the inner voice [that] I like to call ‘inner critic’ shows up. We all have this inner voice, the one that tells you you're making a mistake or belittles you in other ways. Getting caught up in the dialogue of the inner critic and believing everything that voice tells you can often lead to increased anxiety, depression and low self-worth. A lot of the work I do with clients is on identifying and separating themselves from that inner critic and learning when and how to not listen to that voice.”
Also, try not to get too stuck in conversations inside your head. “Sometimes this can lead to unproductive rumination, where you just loop thoughts over and over again in your head without them really going anywhere or leading to any kind of conclusion,” Dr. Bergfeld explains. “If you notice this happening, try journaling about it or talking to a loved one or a therapist. Both writing and talking to a safe person are usually much more effective ways of organizing and making sense of our thoughts.”
To help you avoid the negative self-talk, take a page out of the playbooks of top athletes like Serena Williams who use motivational self-talk to positively affect their performance. So be your own cheerleader and root for yourself loud and clear.
Why You Should Speak Out Loud
That’s because talking out loud is better than saying it silently to yourself. A 2012 study found that talking out loud improved the control folks had over a task. Participants were asked to read written instructions either silently or out loud; researchers discovered that concentration and performance improved when the instructions had been read aloud. Simply hearing yourself can make a difference and give you better control over your behavior, which is why Serena yelling “come on!” to herself may help her stay focused on the court.
This “out loud” technique can also help you find your phone (really). A study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology found that folks who spoke to themselves and said the name of the familiar item they were looking for (like keys or phone) out loud found the lost objects more quickly.
So, is talking to yourself normal? If it helps us find our keys and win tennis titles, totally.