The Art of Talking to Yourself: thoughts from C.G. Jung and historic Christianity


Harrowing of hell

It’s long been thought that talking to oneself is a mark of psychosis. The opposite is in fact true. If used right talking to oneself is a mark of a properly developing personality.

C.G. Jung was one of the first of the modern psychologists to discover that talking to oneself can, if used right, be one of the most effective tools to use against the seemingly random and unseen negative influences of the unconscious.

The unconscious usually goes unnoticed in our day-to-day lives for the simple fact that everything emanating from the unconscious is, by definition, not conscious. It takes some digging to unearth those jumbled mental complexes that lead us to do and say things that we do not want to do and say. Some people dig their way to their unconscious through psychoanalysis, and others ignore this ‘other world’ wholesale. A third option for those who have neither the time, money, or faith in psychoanalysis work is to train themselves to become deeply self-aware.

The way to accomplish this is easy to talk about but extremely difficult to enact. Difficult because it requires the use of an internal ‘muscle’ that most of us never use. The muscle is deliberate honesty with what and who we truly are. Not the what and who we think we are, or the person we intend to be on that phantasmal and elusive day when we ‘get it all together,’ but the person who is ever present after all the masks have been removed.

But there is good reason why most of us never look inward or at least not for long stretches at a time. The avoidance is primarily because inside is where all the mess is, all the chaos, all the distress – in mythical terms: where all the dragons live, where Dante’s 9 circles of hell lives, where one’s internal Democrat lives (kidding, kidding).

It is important that one learns that he or she is not a single, unified being, psychologically speaking. According to C.G. Jung, each of us is made up of a web of “contradictory multiplicity of complexes”.

Historic Christian thought bears this out. King David is probably the most famous ‘self-talkers’ ever, Bible or otherwise. He is often found talking to his own soul as if he were a split-personality. A good example is Psalms 42:5 where he first asks himself questions: “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?” and then commands himself: “Hope in God.” Paul the apostle observed that he had two warring “laws” within him – one of the mind and one of the flesh – which caused him to do the evil things that he willed not to do (Romans 7:18-23). Many of the Church fathers and saints spoke at length on this phenomenon. One of them, Saint Diadochos of Photiki, taught that Adam’s sin – eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil – caused mankind’s power of thinking to be split into two modes. He wrote: “Ever since our intellect fell into a state of duality with regard to its modes of knowledge, it has been forced to produce at one and the same moment both good and evil thoughts, even against its own will,” effectively linking the two modes of thought with the two modes found in the primordial tree of knowledge.

Taking for granted that modern psychology and historic Christian thought have it right on this point, talking to oneself becomes highly significant. In order to understand and dialogue with one’s whole being it is necessary to do what king David was keen on, that is, enacting a sort of purposeful ‘dissociation’ with that part of ourselves which we don’t understand. When David discovered a part of his soul that didn’t comply with the good he intended, he called it out into the light: “why are you cast down, O my soul?” He honed in on his own depression and recognized that it was something alien to his self, something trespassing on holy ground as it were.

Jung said this dissociation is “not so terribly difficult,” if one treats it as an art which “consists only in allowing our invisible partner to make herself heard (in this passage Jung was dealing specifically with the anima archetype), in putting the mechanism of expression momentarily at her disposal, without being overcome by the distaste one naturally feels at playing such apparently ludicrous games with oneself…”

Jung encouraged “scrupulous honesty with oneself” and the harboring of “no rash anticipation of what the other side might conceivably say.” In this way one allows that weird, shadowy, undiscovered, but ever present part of himself or herself to come up out of the darkness of the unconscious and into the light of consciousness.

Once a thought, an emotion, a memory, is in the light of consciousness it is no longer at the whim of the irrational workings of the unconscious; or in Christian terms, it is no longer a secret weapon the enemy can use at will to wreck a person inside out. Giving the thought, emotion, etc., a proper hearing gives one a whole new understanding of his or her own Self and with understanding comes the power to change.

Better to wittingly dissociate with oneself for the purposes of becoming a unified being than to always be tripping on one’s unconscious without knowing it; something one often has a terrible time seeing for himself but is apparent to everyone else. A person’s unconscious conflicts are rarely a mystery to those around him.

So, in summary, don’t be a weirdo. Talk to yourself.

6 thoughts on “The Art of Talking to Yourself: thoughts from C.G. Jung and historic Christianity

  1. “inner Democrat” (that gave me a chuckle)

    An interesting article. And naturally I liked it.

    I like the picture too. Can you tell me what it is called and who painted it and where I can read about the artist on the web? I tried doing an image search but unsuccessful.

  2. Hey Crossbow. It’s an icon known as the Harrowing of Hell. There are many versions from different artists and time periods. It’s used during Easter along with Christ’s resurrection. Beautiful stuff.

  3. It is beautiful too. The auras and halos are interesting. I have seen several Harrowing of Hell pictures but not that one before. I did not realise it was one of those. I will search for it.

    You do obtain many beautiful pictures for your blog.

  4. Good stuff. I’ve always talked to myself since I was a child, but not quite in this way. I’m getting into this right now, actually specifically speaking to my inner child. We’re on much better terms now since I’ve given her a voice. It’s incredible how much healing can happen from doing this.

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