Lesson 1: You are not the Voice in your head. You can choose how to speak to yourself. You can choose what thoughts to keep.
Often when we start to change our lives, we quickly come to realize that one of our biggest obstacles is our ‘inner voice’. Yes, it is normal to have voices in your head! (Phew!)
Our gremlin/inner critic is that delightful part of us that reminds us of everything we’ve ever done wrong (at 2 am) and all the ways we are likely going to mess up. It’s like the shit talking 8 year old brother we all don’t need following us around.
This voice is the product of our families, our peers, our community, our society and even our time period. We learn how to speak to ourselves through observation of our environment. We learn from those who speak to us. We learn from what others call themselves. We learn from the words used to describe ourselves and others.
The problem comes when our Voice starts to keep us from being who we are and living our best life. So how can we learn to manage it?
1) Awareness is Key. We can’t change what we don’t see. The first step to any behavior is noticing it! This can be super challenging in the beginning, because we are so used to just talking this way to ourselves.
Tip: Use your body as a cue. Often when I was calling myself down, I would become upset. I would lose concentration, I would cry, I would feel tired. These were all cues that I was full of negative energy.
2) Learn about your particular companion. Write down what the voices says. Understanding its tactics and patterns is key to understanding how to combat the voice. As you gain awareness, document what is going on in that brain of yours. You may have different voices for different things, or you may have one dictator. Learn about who’s living up there.
3) Separation. Once you have a sense of what’s happening, create a name for the voice. When you become aware of its presence, simply name it ‘Gremlin’ or whatever resonates for you. This will be a matter of practice. Chances are when you first start this work, your brain will sneak back into the voice again. Just keep repeating your chosen label every time it comes up.
Be patient with yourself. In the beginning your Voice will take you on a full day adventure before you notice what is going on. Noticing at all is the work.
4) Witness. Creating separation is to allow you to become witness. It is about creating a division between yourself and the Voice, so that you can understand that the Voice isn’t you.
a. Labelling creates distance between the thoughts and you. This lessens the emotional impact. When you are wrapped up in your negative thoughts, they are REAL. However, when you can label the thoughts they lose this power because labelling shifts the brain into the logical side.
b. By separating the Voice from yourself, you can observe the pain the Voice causes. This allows for compassion. Once you understand that the Voice is hurting you, you have the capacity to tend to that hurt.
5) Creating room for compassion. The Voice is a part of you. It is a collection of all the rules and regulations and boundaries you’ve compiled in your head. It is providing information to you, it is an arrow pointing to fear, insecurity, or pain. All of which can be felt in your body.
Early in my journey, I couldn’t decipher what it wanted to tell me because it was just too painful. I was so closely identifying with the Voice that I believed everything it said. I kept falling under its sway. Eventually I stopped trying to argue with my Voice or disprove it (when I believed it 100%).
Instead of trying to argue with the Voice, I acknowledged the part it was berating.
When my Voice was yelling at me for making a mistake, I would notice the Voice and notice my shame and humiliation and self doubt. Instead of feeding the Voice, I would validate my emotional reaction ‘Of course you’re upset, its painful when you make a mistake.”
This tiny shift, this small validation is the opening for self compassion. Self compassion is the first step in self love (which we will get to in a few weeks!)
The Skills: 1) Practice becoming aware of the Voice. 2) Write down what it is saying and it's identities. 3) Interrupt the voice with a label. 4) Acknowledge your emotional reaction to the Voice.