SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Talking to Your Self
Things are not always better left unsaid.
Before we were The Black Sheep, we were a newsletter named Spiritual Soap. Please enjoy this article from our history!
I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.
No one truly knows you and no one ever truly will. Not your parents, not your partner, not your children. There is only one person who can ever come close to truly knowing who you are, and that’s you.
You might counter that isolating idea by considering how incredibly well your partner does know you, sometimes seemingly better than you know yourself. There’s truth to that; your partner can see parts of you that you’ve long become blind to, like the weird way you hold a fork or that deep sigh you let out when you’re overwhelmed. Those things matter, but they’re like the clues to a treasure only you have the key to—the thoughts that never leave your head.
Unlike other people who are stuck piecing together clues to understand you, whether you decide to look or not, you’re the only one with unrestricted access to you.
We might not notice our habit of exasperated sighing, but we do know the thoughts we’re holding back when that sigh slips out.
We call the thoughts that never escape their origin “inner speech.” We use the organization of language even inside our own heads. You don’t sit in silence, suddenly interrupted by a single impulse—HUNGER—and then move toward the kitchen without inner speech. That short, mundane moment is an extensive, verbose conversation with ourself:
“I’m getting hungry, but I really need to keep working. No, I’ll take a break and get a snack. What can I eat? Oh yeah, I got those new cheese bites from Trader Joe’s. No, no. I can’t just eat cheese bites all day. Shit. I forgot about the fruit salad in the fridge…..I really should eat the fruit salad…..I really don’t want to eat the fruit salad.”
At this point in the struggle between cheese bites and fruit salad, you might break with inner speech and opt for private speech. Meaning, you might say out loud “Fuck it,” as you reach for the forbidden food.
Cheese bites aren’t just a quirky example; our inner monologue is more likely to become an outer monologue when dealing with emotions, self-restraint, and problem-solving. Cheese bites take a lot of self-restraint.
The emergence of private speech first occurs around 2 years old, which is also the emergence of self-regulation. Kids often talk to themselves during difficult tasks, when their focus is strained, or when they’re playing pretend games. This self-talk is correlated with better focus, self-regulation, and more creativity.
If you’ve ever pushed yourself to the limit of your attention span, been immersed in a creative task, or tried not to eat a 7th serving of cheese bites, you’ve probably tried verbally coaxing yourself in the right direction. Research shows that self-talk from the second-person, like “You did good,” or “You should probably eat the fruit salad before it rots,” is more effective than first-person. Children’s self-talk often mimics the guidance of their parents, which comes in the second-person.
Rather than stay tangled in our inner monologue, taking our thoughts outside our head and talking through them as if we were our own caregiver (as neurotic and new age as it sounds) is a powerful practice.
If you research “talking to yourself,” you’ll find praise of self-talk as a sign of intelligence and health with a few help-hotlines and symptoms for schizophrenia scattered in. It does feel a bit unhinged to bicker with yourself out loud about whether to work for another hour or take a break, but as long as you know the voice bickering with you is your own voice and not another being, you’re safe (and sane).
Talking to yourself is more than just sane, it’s plain old big-brain energy. The stereotypical mad scientist and manic artist muttering to themselves aren’t as cartoonish as it seems; talking through your thoughts is a long-lauded strategy for clarifying them.
When you speak your thoughts, you’re better able to complete them in a cohesive way, rather than leave them as half-thoughts spinning in the washing machine of our speed limitless mind.
Borderline insane-looking behavior has long been the realm of creators. Software engineering has its own version of sanctioned self-talk called rubber duck debugging. In their book The Pragmatic Programmer, Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas tell of a programmer that carried a rubber duck with him to find the errors in his code by explaining it to the duck.
Essentially an absurd version of the idea that to master something, teach it, rubber duck deprogramming is also a reminder that to understand something, speak it.
You’re talking to yourself, chatting it up with your nearest rubber duck, voicing your protestations against eating your salad and admitting defeat to the cheese bites. Talking to yourself might be great for organizing your mind…but who exactly is this “self” you’re talking to?
Yep, we’re going there.
The self has perplexed and eluded us for eternity. Whether it’s Socrates’ dual self, Descartes’ self-proving self, or Sam Harris’ illusory self, we’ve been talking about ourself for a long, long time.
Regardless of whether you think about your self, you have one. How we understand that self might not seem important in pragmatic moments like bill paying and staying sane in traffic, but (to no one’s surprise) I disagree.
You couldn’t pay those bills and avoid committing vehicular homicide without a self. Your self is not only required for existence as a thinking animal, but it’s predictive of your success as that thinking animal, too. Rather than being a body housing a jumble of mandatory instincts or living as a stagnant self with no layers to learn of and potentials to aim at, Jung believed our self was crucial to a full life.
You can think of the Self archetype as a big circle with smaller circles within it, like the shadow, the ego, the anima/us. The Self encompasses all the layers of who we are, from what we proudly display to others to what we hide even from ourselves.
We’re born without knowledge of the pesky “I” that steers us away from “Self” in favor of safety and acceptance.
As we develop and learn that mom doesn’t cease to exist just because she covers her face, we start to carve out a little “i,” noticing ourself as it contrasts with others. Eventually, we become the proud owners of a fully formed “I” we call ego. That ego is where our greatest task begins.
Jung’s self-development process called individuation is the way we answer our life’s biggest question: who am “I”? Where we once worked to develop our ego from a self that had no hidden layers and no borders, we now work to uncover the layers and transcend the borders that life’s bumps and scratches provide us.
What parts of your Self do you ignore and hide? What social role have you taken on and do you ever take it off? These are the questions that individuation requires you ask yourself in order to understand your Self.
The individuated Self is one that knows and balances the layers it’s built from. The hero at the end of a journey who overcame their fear symbolizes the power that a balanced Self yields. Jung believed Jesus was a symbol of the Self—a person who overcame temptation of weaker impulses, followed his purpose despite the risks, and accepted his own death.
The version of us that hides and ignores parts of itself is fractured. A balanced self is its own reward.
Only through a willingness to know all of our Self can we eventually become fully ourself.
Confronting and integrating all of who we are—not merely the socially acceptable side or the comfortable side—is an excruciating process. It’s not some kumbaya, drum circle, Sunday night hobby. To face the parts of yourself you know are dangerous to you and others; to accept the parts of yourself you’ve fought off for decades; to let go of the parts of yourself you hide in for comfort—that is painful, frightful work.
A destructive personality is one that’s too afraid to know itself.
For the person willing to dig up what lays buried and give up the crutch of a static self, the reward is the ultimate beauty in life—to live as no one else but your Self.
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.