Disclaimer: This is an impressionistic personal self-reflection type of piece. It is not intended to be an well-researched academic one.
There is something quite liberating about being brutally honest with oneself and admitting my ignorance, weaknesses and mistakes. I feel sorry for those who are extremely defensive that that they have to convince themselves and others they’re right 24/7.
What a nightmare! We’re already overwhelmed by the clutter-storm of tasks and duties in life, they took it upon themselves to add to-do-list and impossible feat: defending the indefensible: “Prove that you’re right to yourself and others every time all the time)”.
When I lower my guards and start to look at myself as if I’m a fly on the wall, as if I’m an impartial detective in a mystery novel, things become much more laid back and ,paradoxically, real. When the goal is not an innocence verdict but arriving at the truth, we win every time in the sense that we achieve the set goal. As my grandma used to say about what team she roots for “أنا بشجع اللعب الحلو” “I root for good playing”. Paradoxically also, it boosts my self-confidence. If I keep trying to convince myself that I’m good at everything ;that I didn’t do any mistakes; that my squabbles with my family and friends are all their fault and I did absolutely nothing wrong, I would lose credibility to myself and others. I’m guessing here but there might be a small part of us that really doesn’t buy our cognitive-dissonance attempts to exonerate ourselves in every single instance. “How convenient? You did nothing wrong this time and the time before that and the time before that and it’s all their faul!. You think you’re the most handsome, most hard-working, most intelligent person?! What a lovely coincidence it is that all these extremely unlikely scenarios happened with you? Oh and it just so happens that they’re the positions that make you the happiest about yourself.” “Isn’t it wonderful that my nieces and nephews are the funniest, cutest, most intelligent and loveliest kids walking on this planet? Already quite a rare combination of records to break for one kid to break, but our family is so fortunate to have 5 cases of these record-breaking kids. We must have good genes!”
Maybe deep down, I wouldn’t buy my own cognitive dissonance resolution attempts. Going back to the paradoxical part, when we do something that is actually quite abnormally good while maintaining this “always amazing” mindset, a subconscious “The boy who cried wolf” scenario might unfold. “Here it is again; my ego is telling I’m doing something fantastic just like every time. I’m not that gullible to believe it again.” Then we might end up with less confidence then we ought to have because of the false alarms of the past. If you’re operating under the “perhaps” paradigm, when you finally say to yourself “that was amazing” or “It’s really not my fault at all this time” then you might be more likely to believe yourself this time and rightly so (Admittedly, I haven’t provided much evidence to support this claim but it’s a cute hypothesis”).
The beautiful thing about this “impartial detective” scenario is that unlike a real case, you don’t have to come to a conclusion. Isn’t that wonderful news? Don’ you feel a gigantic burden has been taken off your chest? You can look at yourself or your performance and the factors and just absorb them and record them. If they all point to one direction “I’m totally innocent or totally stupid or it’s totally their fault” then fine. If the evidence is more ambiguous with some pointing to one direction and the other to the opposite direction, then that’s fine too (The latter should happen quite a bit unless you’re living in a 2D cartoon). You don’t need to give a judgement. You can use the most under-used sentence in any language “I don’t know” and let it all hang out. That’ a relief.
This guess of a theory is somewhat similar to what I’ve been taught in a psychology class:if your audience are sophisticated, then they’re more likely to be persuaded by your message if you admit the merits of the opposite opinion. There’s also a psychological law “something effect” (I can’t remember the man’s name) that stipulates that people are more likely to buy your product if you show its weaknesses and limits. It’s speculation on my side that that this applies to self-talk but it sounds nice. After I wrote this piece though, I serendipitously came across this study which seems to mesh well with what’s been said
Cole says “. In what may be an unfortunate paradox, compliments may feel least good when they come from those people most likely to offer them. .. compliments from loved ones are viewed as less emotionally impactful than compliments from strangers”.
How does harmonize with CBT and the emphasis on the dangers of negative self-talk? (Note how I side-stepped the trivial issue of proving the hypothesis to worrying about this hypothesis coheres with CBT). Well, I will leave this question to the hordes of psychologists reading this piece to figure those one out. Mindfulness psychology on the other hand seems to go well with all of this. It stipulates that when you start observing yourself and your thoughts as a dispassionate observer refraining from judging, labelling or critiquing these negative thoughts, they lose their strength. You rob them of their power when you stop battling them. If you don’t resist, they won’t persist. Similarly, it’s plausible that when you stop struggling to prove to yourself that you’re innocent, you become less fearful of a guilty verdict. “What ye plead?” “I plead meh… whatever”.
I would imagine that this will have positive effects on relationships. People would take your point of view more seriously if it doesn’t seem totally biased. Paradoxically, you’d be winning people over more often if you’re not so hell-bent on winning each and every argument.