You can hear it. It’s that voice in your head. You know what I’m talking about. The voice that is louder than the others, that tells you you’re always wrong, that what you said to your colleague at work was stupid, that tells you that you are a terrible parent, that tells you that you are a terrible partner and that your relationship will soon be over if you don’t change. Sometimes it’s on the go, non-stop. Sometimes it’s quieter. But like that tiny freckle on your neck that looks like a speck of dirt, IT’S ALWAYS THERE. It keeps you up nights. It wakes you up in the morning, sometimes. That VOICE.
It’s not that that voice doesn’t have a point, sometimes. Sometimes we turn left when we should have turned right, or what we said to our colleague really WAS the wrong thing to say in that moment. Sometimes we make mistakes with our kids, and with our partners. The problem isn’t that the voice is totally out of left field. It’s that the voice is so critical. Mean, even. The voice in our head knows all the buttons to push, and does so with an intensity that really gets in our way.
Often times, people come to see me because that voice gets too loud. And there’s no arguing with it. Something I work on with my clients is learning to hear ALL the voices that are in there. Usually, we all have a competing voice to the loud, critical one. It’s just quieter. Sometimes the mute button seems to be on. But that quieter voice is usually one with more compassion. That quieter voice, when attended to, is MORE TRUE. It’s that quieter voice that can still acknowledge when we made a mistake, but might challenge the louder voice for being so intense in the critique.
How do we turn up the volume on that quieter voice? First, we have to listen for it. The next time you are raking yourself over the coals, take a minute to take a breath. Take a second one for good measure. Since you have to breathe anyway, go ahead and take a third one, too. Stop and ask yourself, “Is what this voice in my head is saying TRUE?” Is there a different, but still honest and believable, way to look at this situation? For example, let’s say you are replaying an exchange you had with someone during the day in which you feel like you wish you had said something different than what you actually said. Sometimes that critical voice will say to you, “You’re such an IDIOT. That person probably thinks you’re a LOSER.”
Let’s review—are you really an idiot? Probably not. You are able to read this article. You do things in your life. Did you make a mistake? Did you misspeak? Were you distracted? Maybe there are other plausible reasons why you didn’t say exactly what you wanted to. Being distracted or anxious is quite different than being an idiot. And now for the second part—does the other person really think you are a loser? For starters, it’s unlikely that the other person is spending nearly as much time as you are, evaluating your every word. Secondly, you really can’t know what’s in their brain, accurately. The other person comes with all their own hang-ups and they may be thinking about you being a loser or may be standing before you worried about their own stuff. And thirdly, does it really
matter if that other person thinks you are a loser? Really?
Turning up the more compassionate voice in your head also allows you to be more compassionate with those around you. This is a win-win situation for everyone. Finding alternate ways to look at situations—while still being honest about what happens—is a gentler way of being, and feels better. Not just for you, but for others, too.
Would you EVER talk to others the way that critical voice in your head talks to you? Not likely. The next time you hear that loud voice in your head that is critical and unsympathetic, start challenging it and giving voice to that other part of you—the compassionate part of you that is typically less critical to other people. You deserve the same courtesy you extend to others. As the words we use in our head changes, so does our sense of self. Believe me, you will not be a fool if you are less hard on yourself. In fact, it’s usually kindness that brings us to do more good things for ourselves and those around us.