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Talking To Ourselves - Hazel Booth

Have you ever watched The Jeremy Kyle show?  I’m an OAP so I have an excuse but you probably have better things to do.  Anyway, I’m guessing that you might have seen the occasional programme.  It is billed as “No-holds-barred discussions” or “Guests air their differences” or “Fiery studio confrontations”.  So in other words there are going to be arguments.  


The topics chosen are sensitive and the guests are emotional.  Jeremy’s job is to make the whole thing entertaining while reassuring us that the programme exists “to help people turn their lives around”.  However the most challenging aspect of his job must be to manage communication so that we can make sense of the often complex and confusing stories.  


Although he doesn’t have a script, he often resorts to set phrases.  The counsellor Graham is “the genius” and the DNA test results are always “all important”.  The guests have presumably watched previous shows and consequently learned suitable phrases.  It isn’t done to say simply that I love him but I love him “to bits”. When Jeremy asks how the guest will feel if the DNA test proves that “you are the Dad”, the positive response is usually “over the moon” and the negative is “gutted”.  Through repetition such odd phrases seem normal and meaningful.


Jean Piaget (1896-1980) demonstrated that language development occurs in universal stages as it depends on the brain’s growth and structure.  Piaget’s work has been a major influence in education.  However he overlooked the importance of culture.  Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) emphasised the social nature of learning.  Many years after his death it was discovered that babies a few weeks old have the potential to learn any language to which they are exposed but by the age of 8 or 9 months this ability is lost.  Children become attuned to environmental speech sounds and stop being able to discriminate between any speech sounds.  


Vygotsky claimed that culture-free learning is impossible as learning is a consequence of social interaction.  As beginners we learn from people who are more experienced.  This applies to the learning of appropriate social behaviour and language as well as physical skills.  What we can do with help today, we will do independently in the future.  


Children diagnosed with autism are usually socially unresponsive.  This interferes with their ability to become part of the culture.  They do not learn appropriate social behaviour.  This makes them seem odd, unpredictable and even frightening.  They may become ostracised or even bullied.  To be different is dangerous.  Many people without a medical diagnosis suffer the consequences of social rejection.  People who do not know the script make us uncomfortable and we tend to avoid embarrassing situations.  Recently a guest on the Kyle show kept referring to Jeremy as “Mr. Kyle, Sir”.  Not knowing the script made him appear odd.  And although this claims to be a caring programme, when the audience laughed mockingly at this man, Jeremy didn’t discourage them, quite the opposite.  It made “good” television.  The man, accused of stealing money from his brother, had taken a lie detector test, the results of which were inconclusive.  However his inability to use the appropriate script made him seem guilty.



Most of us would be offended if we were thought of as being just like everybody else.  It is appealing to imagine that we are a bit special but in an attractive way.  Without realising it, everyday we deal with the complex issue of presenting ourselves as an interesting unique individual who is also normal and therefore socially acceptable.  


The Medical Model of mental disorder aims to distinguish between behavioural signs as indications of a specific disorder and behaviour that is simply unusual.  One of the symptoms of Schizophrenia is “hearing voices”.  Therefore “hearing voices” is a sign of mental disorder.  However mystics and spiritual leaders were considered to be favoured by God when they heard voices and would go on arduous pilgrimages or live as recluses to make themselves more able or worthy of receiving the messages.  Bible teaching is partly a record of messages received by exceptional individuals.


During a 5 year period starting in 1975, “The Yorkshire Ripper” Peter Sutcliffe acted on the voices telling him that women were dirty and that by killing them, he was removing them from and so purifying society.  He saw himself as an agent of God.  










The psychiatrist R.D. Laing (1927-1989) opposed the use of psychotropic drugs to suppress the voices heard by Schizophrenia patients.  He saw Schizophrenia as a journey into the underworld to reclaim lost treasure – the unconditioned Self.  As medication interferes with the journey the opportunity for self-discovery is lost as society condemns the exceptional individual, to a drug controlled life in limbo.  Laing demonstrated that the perception and reasoning in Schizophrenia is unusual but nevertheless has its own logic.  He describes a patient who claimed that she was a tennis ball.  When it came to light that her parents had refused to speak to each other throughout her childhood and used her as a go-between, her conclusion made sense.  He believed that the psychiatrist should attempt to understand and communicate with the patient rather than comply with a fearful society by seeing the patient as dangerous and therefore to be feared, controlled and imprisoned.  Alcohol had a part to play in discrediting Laing.  His drink-fuelled appearances on American television made it easy for opponents to ridicule his work. I wonder what Laing would have made of Peter Sutcliffe?


So “hearing voices” isn’t meant to happen and “talking to your self” is acceptable when you are a child but is meant to be outgrown.  However could it be that we hear voices and talk (not out loud) to ourselves most of the time and are either unaware of this or consider it to be normal?  


Often when we feel anxious we are being undermined by an inner critic who tells us we will fail.  The inner voice predicts that you will mess up, make everyone laugh at you, show yourself up, be found boring or unattractive etc. Perhaps we are projecting when we label others as mentally ill.  Perhaps to be human is to be flawed.  Perhaps the inner critic wouldn’t have any leverage if we accepted our humanity with all its imperfections while trying to fulfil our potential.


Serena Williams is World Number One and has just claimed the Australian Open Tennis title again.  At the changeover between games, she used to read some notes reminding herself of her goals.  She appears fearless but she is human and knows failure and disappointment and has learned to overcome the inner critic at key moments by saying to her self: “What would I do now if I am fearless?” and then doing it.  She has found a way of talking to herself that allows communication and facilitates co-operation between her human frail side and her aspirations.  


Most of us are not highly talented performers but our ability to face reality makes us heroic.  You probably already have some long term goals but as we can live only in the present moment, daily or even hourly goals are useful too.  Most of our short term goals are mundane but nevertheless important as without them we are adrift at the mercy of the tide to dictate our quality of experience.


If you know you don’t use your time well you could say to yourself:


“What would I do now if I am a person who meets deadlines?”


Other ideas:

What would I eat now if I am a person who eats healthily?”

”What would I say now if I am a person who is honest/kind/fun/cool/etc.?”

“Where would I go now if I am a person who explores new possibilities?”

“Who would I talk to now if I am a person who finds solutions?”


Questions like this represent you communicating with yourself.  They are a way of tapping into your formidable resources.  They give you guidance from yourself to yourself.  They give you the courage to move forwards while accepting that you are only human.  Perhaps to be psychologically mature we need to accept that we talk to ourselves and take responsibility for what we say.  This is a necessary selfishness because how we operate at this level affects our relationships with others.  


Most people are familiar with the line: “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” from The Lord’s Prayer.  What if trespassing refers to projection?  We invade another’s space by giving them an undesirable aspect of ourselves.  We have in effect polluted them with our rubbish.  Once we are aware of the tendency to project, with practice, we can reduce our tendency to do it.  However we can’t stop another projecting onto us.  Isn’t it annoying when you find out that someone has said something mean about you that simply isn’t true? So a useful final question might be:


“What would I do next if I am a compassionate person?”



In 1981Peter Sutcliffe was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia.  He murdered 13 women and attacked several others.  He is serving a life sentence in Broadmoor  Hospital.  











Hazel Booth retired recently from a 40 year career in education.  She is now enjoying being a student: learning to play the cello, identifying moths and exploring the paranormal.  

Game theory- Psychiatry and Control

Game theory- Dream of Freedom

Talking to ourselves –


“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”.  


Sadly, we know all too well that this isn’t true.  People often say intentionally hurtful things to or about other people.  We are usually shocked and angry or upset when words are used against us.  However we hurt ourselves all the time in our private world of silent dialogue.  Perhaps if we become aware of what we are saying to ourselves, we can choose to use words as a means of support and encouragement.  


Some of his victims were prostitutes and although murder is a crime, it could be reasoned by some that the world would be a better place without prostitution.  In fact some religions regard prostitution as a crime.  However some of his victims were definitely not prostitutes.  Their crime was to be female.  

Peter Sutcliffe Documentary

The Politics of experience

Autisim awareness video

Serena Williams ejects racist hijacker