Self-Talk and Guilt
In my first post on self-talk, we discovered that all of us talk to ourselves on a regular basis, whether it be positive or negative self-talk as described by author David Stoop
in his book Self-Talk: Key to Personal Growth
. We examined the patterns of negative self-talk when we allow our circumstances to lead us to irrational thought processes. We saw this in the Biblical example of Job. And finally, we looked at the solution to change our negative self-talk as given in God's Word. In my second post, we looked at our self-talk in connection to the specific emotions of anger and depression. In this third and final post, we will look at the emotions of guilt, worry, and anxiety in connection to our self-talk. I will then conclude with a look at utilizing our self-talk in order to live an assertive life.
We often have feelings of guilt from sin, anger, and depression from our past. Our guilt takes us back to these past memories, and in an attempt to remove this guilt, we begin to reshape the memories of our sin. Some guilt is warranted when we are convicted by the Holy Spirit in order to bring us to repentance, but here we're talking more about false guilt. False guilt leads us to make self-talk statements such as "I shouldn't have done that, but I should have done that instead." So, what do we do? We attempt to correct these wrongs by trying harder, which often leads to further failures.
We see this in the the life of the Apostle Paul as he wrestles with guilt in Romans 7:21-24,
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Paul struggles with the sin nature as all of us do. He can't seem to do what he knows he should be doing, and he does that which he knows he shouldn't be doing. Because he's not doing the good he knows he supposed to do, this cycles into more guilt and frustration. The solution to Paul's struggle is found in the opening of the next chapter, Romans 8:1-2,
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life sets me free from the law of sin and death.
Because of Christ's work on the cross and the Holy Spirit's work in the life of the believer, we have been set free. There is nothing any of us can do or not do that will condemn us. There are no more "shoulds." In the book, David Stoop concludes his discoveries concerning self-talk and guilt with this statement:
Self-Talk can be an accuser or it can glory in forgiveness, as David does in Psalm 103. You can let your thoughts run wild with guilt and anger, or you can capture every thought and bring it under the umbrella of forgiveness. Destroy the shoulds, the hopeless standards, the small sharp stones. In their place put forgiveness, for only forgiveness can cancel out the debt of guilt and anger (p. 129).
Self-Talk, Worry and Anxiety
As human beings, we have a tendency to worry about many things. We worry about our family. We worry about our jobs. We worry about money. We worry about the economy and its impact on all these things.
Worry has been defined as "stewing without doing." This is an excellent definition because there is nothing that you and I can do about our worries because they are all oriented in the future. Plus, just about everything we worry about is out of our control in the first place and not even likely to take place.
Worry has a paralyzing effect on all of us. We feel hopeless and helpless to move forward because the worry is choking off any emotional, creative energy in our lives.
Anxiety is similar to worry, except that anxiety does not have a specific object. It is simply a restless concern in our lives. Anxiety can and will turn to worry once we place our concern onto a specific object such as our job, the economy, and so on.
The problem with worry is that it is our attempt to control the future. Just as we use guilt as an attempt to reshape our past, we us worry as a mechanism to shape our future, which of course is impossible. Our self-talk in a worried state would sound something like this if say, perhaps, we have just lost our job:
What if I can't find a job?
What if I use up my savings?
I must find something for a job!
It isn't fair that I lost my job!
I've got to find work!
In these statements, there are a lot of "what ifs" and "musts." We are allowing our self-talk to raise our needs to an absolute - I must
! You cannot accept any other alternatives, and when this happens, you end up trapped in the present, paralyzed in your worry and you cannot creatively move forward in your life.
The key to breaking out of the cycle of anxiety and worry is to place your trust in God alone. I realize this is easier said than done, but as believers in Christ, our walk must line up with our talk. If we truly believe that He is God and we are His children, that He is in ultimate control of all things. He knows our past, our present, and our future. There is no way that we can reach into the future in an attempt to control our situation. We must rest our faith and control into the hands of Him who has promised to care for us. Jesus reminds his followers of this fact in Matthew 6:25-31,
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'"
Assertive Living Through Self-Talk
Most people associate assertiveness with aggressiveness. The reason for this is that we often see people who were once passive in their behavior learn to assert themselves. When these people figure out that they have rights, they have a tendency to allow the emotion of anger to rise to the surface as a result of their previous passivity, and they become aggressive. In the end, though, this is not true assertiveness. All of us have tendencies in three different approaches to life: passiveness
, and assertiveness
Those who tend to be passive
in their approach to life are usually controlled by fear. Their self-talk reflects fear of telling people "no" and standing up for their rights in certain situations. For example:
"I can't tell the waiter that this food was bad. He and the manager will think I'm just trying to get a free meal."
"I can't say no to my boss. I'll get fired."
"I can't tell my friend the truth about her poor choices, because then she won't be my friend anymore."
Those who tend to be aggressive
in their approach to life have pent-up anger and resentment and do explode. The aggressive person's self-talk might sound something like:
"This food tastes terrible. I demand a free meal!"
"My boss wants me to do what? He's being totally unreasonable and I have certain rights around here!"
"My friend is being a real jerk, and I'm just going to give her a piece of my mind!"Assertive living
is different. It is not passive or aggressive. It is not motivated by fear or anger. The motivation behind true assertive living is based on the emotion of love
. You care enough about yourself and others that you will speak up for your rights, while being careful not to violate other's rights at the same time. The purpose behind assertive living is not to get what you want. Rather, it is a mechanism, a tool that we can use in order to regain a sense of self-control. You are able to act
the way that you choose, not react
. In the above examples, assertive self-talk might sound something like:
"This food is really bad. I'm going to let my waiter know that it is really not good. I'm sure he will be understanding and bring me something better. If I then get it for free or at a discount, that will be a bonus blessing for me."
"My boss is asking me to do something that I'm not sure I have time to do. If his request is reasonable, I will do all that I can to accomplish what I am able. If I then run into difficulties, I will meet with him and discuss the challenges I am having with this project."
"My friend is really making some very poor choices in her life right now. I will speak the truth in love to her. If after hearing the truth she chooses not to be my friend, then that is her choice. I will still love her and pray for her."
The Apostle Paul was an example of assertive living. In Galatians 2:11-14 we read the story of Paul's confrontation with Peter:
When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?"
In this story, we see Paul as Peter's brother in Christ confronting him in an assertive manner. He told Peter the truth in love. If Paul had been passive about this hypocrisy, he would not have confronted Peter out of fear of losing a friend in Christ. If Paul had confronted Peter in an aggressive manner, we would have seen Paul shouting at Peter, demanding that he stop what he was doing. Paul handled this delicate situation in an appropriate manner.
As you go about your life, examine how you are talking to yourself on a regular basis. Does your self-talk reflect emotions rooted in anger, depression, guilt, worry, or anxiety? Place your faith in Christ to help you in overcoming your emotions and change the way you are talking to yourself. Remember, you do have a choice in how you feel and act if you will guard your mind on what you are allowing it to meditate on. Live a life of assertiveness through the love of Christ.
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