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May 14, 2019
by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

Monkey Chatter and You

May 14, 2019 13:15 by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW  [About the Author]

What is monkey chatter?  The term has emerged from the practice of Zen Buddhism.  It refers to the silent monologue that passes, mostly negative, judgment on an individual’s every action, thought, and perceived misstep.  It is so automatic that it is not unusual for individuals to be unaware of the misery being dredged up by unconscious thoughts and beliefs.

The chatter competes with peace, serenity, a sense of well-being, and mutes self-confidence.  Where does it come from?  Probably from ancestors who departed this world long before the present day.

Everyone who participates in child care will, without intention, project their own fears and biases on to the child who is being raised.  Since this is unconscious, the care giver has no idea that this is happening.  Each generation of parents and their emissaries has incorporated the dictums of those who raised them into their own system of belief.  The fact that this “song” is unconscious ensures that it eludes awareness.  Almost all of humanity is affected.  It has been suggested that spiritual enlightenment is the way out of this conundrum.  It could be tricky to define “spiritual enlightenment”.

Perhaps a less complicated way to look at this is to accept that just because one believes something to be true does not, necessarily, mean that it is.

Questioning one’s own theories opens the door to creativity, intellectual and reverential growth.  Whatever the impetus that caused those who went before  to adopt certain practices may no longer be relevant.  Just because a forbearer may have needed a horse to travel from Poughkeepsie to the Delaware Water Gap doesn’t mean that proper care and utilization of the horse is essential in making the journey in the 21st century.

There is a fondness for black and white thinking in those who require absolutes in order to feel safe in the world.  The problem with that is that most of life operates in shades of gray.  It does not behoove a living being (of the human variety) to blindly follow along with ideas that have diminished in or lost meaning.

 Monkey chatter is not hung up on sparing one’s feelings.  It is the voice that says, “you should have worked harder”, “you really don’t measure up to the guy in the next office”, “your home is not nice enough to invite guests”, etc.  It will cause an individual to feel inadequate at every turn.  How does one escape this self-generated, unkind point of view?

First, it is essential to become aware of the dialogue that is an ever present part of being alive.  It is not possible to get ahold of all of the chatter.  It is nonstop.  A partial awareness, fortunately, is all that is required.  When that voice tells a person that he/she cannot possibly pass the exam that is scheduled for today and he/she is able to bring that to consciousness, it is a perfect opportunity to respond, either internally or out loud, “Why not?  What makes ‘you’ think that is true?”  Do not be overly concerned about being discovered engaging in self-talk.  Almost everyone becomes immersed in private reflection from time to time.  Research tells us that talking to oneself can be helpful in solving problems.

It is common for individuals to believe that when adversity arrives it is because punishment is deserved.  This is called magical thinking.  The actual punishment arrives in the form of self-hatred.  Many religious scholars contend that when a divine being hears a person’s heartfelt sorrow for a misdeed that the “sin” is expunged.  Such scholars argue that if forgiveness is divine, humans should accept that gift and begin to practice compassion for themselves.  It is said that “rest is when we believe that all our sins have been washed away”.  Few would contend that monkey chatter overrides divine intervention and/or the forces of nature.

There are four “r’s” that comprise successful self-amnesty and the acceptance of grace.

  1. Responsibility
  2. Remorse
  3. Restoration
  4. Renewal.

Hope is reestablished when an individual believes that there is an avenue through which his/her existence can leave a legacy of beneficence for those who follow.

Mistakes do not change the intrinsic value of a human life.  It is unseemly to allow oneself to become a victim of one’s own scorn.  Refusing to forgive yourself is, actually, a form of false pride.  The reason that scholars have provided for this reasoning is that, as a rule, we are able to forgive others more quickly than ourselves.  If the self is cordoned off from the rest of humanity and is denied clemency, this indicates that the self is “special” and separated from the rest of the human family.  This line of reasoning is considered to be invalid and, in fact, arrogant by those who specialize in the study of forgiveness.

An antidote to the experience of self-punishment is an exercise entitled PERT — Positive Emotion Refocusing Technique.  A simple explanation of this procedure follows:  Take 3 deep breaths.  On the third, focus on something that is positive.  This could be an experience or interaction — anything that allows ne to feel peaceful.  It is claimed that by following this practice one will recognize the lifting of a negative mood and the growth of a more positive outlook.  Proponents of this technique assert that this will also be beneficial in dealing with health problems such as heart abnormalities.

One researcher, Maggie Warrell suggests that individuals consider themselves to be “human becomings” as opposed to human beings.  Her thesis is that the task of being human continues for a lifetime.  Ms. Warrell advises that it is helpful to consider the cost of refusing to practice self-appreciation.  It is necessary to give oneself permission to not have it all together all the time. Her premise is that it is more important to be kind to oneself than it is to think highly of oneself.  The ability to practice healthy self-care enhances learning, motivation, and performance.

When an individual cannot cut him/herself a break it is not possible to overcome resentment toward others.  Those who are judgmental in a way that is unbending are, surely, even more harsh in their judgments of themselves. 

In an airplane passengers are directed to use an oxygen mask on themselves before providing oxygen for others.  It is worth considering that this principle is applicable in everyday life.





“Forgiving “Yourself”


“Forgiving Yourself and Others”


Cherry, K (02/21/2019). “How to Forgive Yourself”


Lawrence, J  “Learning to Forgive Yourself”


Michaud,E (02/13/19) “12 Ways to Forgive Yourself for a Past Mistake”


Warrell,M ((02/06/2019) “The Importance of Self-Forgiveness”

About the Author

Ruth Gordon Ruth Gordon, MA/MSW/LCSW

I bring with me +30 years of experience as a clinician. My Masters degrees are from: Assumption College, Worcester, MA, Master of Arts in Psychology & Counseling/ and Boston University School of Social Work, Boston, MA, an MSW in Clinical Social Work. This is the 11th year I have written a monthly newsletter that is sent to approximately 500 individuals. The archive can be found on my website,

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