You met my house mates (the yammering inner voices) here.
Then Colin (who’d silenced his inner critics and loved himself down a mountain) here.
Today I’ll share what I learned from Colin about loving oneself.
So, how to silence one’s inner critic (task-master, slob, pessimist, skeptic, saboteur et al)?
The way Colin described it to me I figured I needed to chunk things down into five steps so I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and give up before I started. Plus, you know I love steps, right!
Step 1 LISTEN
Colin told me that for years he’d been trying to ignore the inner chatter. The messages all seemed so mean, random, relentless and contradictory it never occurred to him to listen to the content.
However – he told me – one weekend after a particularly horrendous bout of inner self-flagellation, a light bulb went off.
“I’m just like my Ex!” he told me.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Yes, it used to drive me nuts. Elaine was a nice girl but she hated herself too. She’d get going on something she hated, like her hair. She’d moan about how thin and straight it was and then, right when I’d be thinking of something OK about her hair she’d skip to bashing her hips: too big. Her breasts: too small. Her chin: too pointy. Her career: too dull. Her family: too unsupportive. And so on. She’d never stop anywhere long enough in her spiral of self-loathing for me to help her figure out if she wanted to do anything about all of this. She’d end up with me agreeing with her – she was hopelessly and forever flawed.”
“And this connects to your issue how, now?” I asked.
“I’ve played this inner game of pass-the-parcel. As soon as one negative thought comes in and stings, I’ll nudge it out-of-the-way with another nasty thought; but just nasty in a different way. Like Elaine would bash her hair like I bash my comments in a meeting. But before I can really address how dumb I was in that meeting, I’ve got another voice telling me it’s not that I’m dumb, it’s that I’m not ambitious enough. I should be in a whole different level of work. And then when I think that, another voice says I’ll never amount to anything and should bag all this and wash dishes…”
“So, I got that I needed to be not like Elaine.
“And the best way to be not like Elaine that I could think of was to slow down the messages and let myself listen to them before the next one came in.”
So Colin told me he decided to slow things down and listen to the messages – even though they were painful. He had no idea if it would help, but at least it was something different and totally the opposite of what he had been doing unsuccessfully all along.
He said he started letting each thought run its course. They stayed mean, random, relentless and contradictory but he made sure he really understood what each voice was saying.
As he did this, he began to notice different themes. Different voices, if you will. Almost as though there were different people inside with entirely different points to make. So he decided to name them.
Step 2 NAME THE VOICES
Colin said this part was fun!
In order to give these voices names, he had to step back and listen to the content with a view to identifying what sort of person would say such a thing.Humm… now he was curious.
Was this the voice of a ~
- lazy slob
- sergeant major
- or sinner?
Colin told me first he identified these sorts of characteristics and then he gave them names.
Let’s look at my inner community that day, climbing the Sun Valley hills.
Voice 1 [Roaring…]
“Can’t you pick up the pace. Look, Mark’s been breaking trail for ages. You’re such a mooch… step it up there”
Maybe a sergeant major. [Or bossy fitness coach?]
Voice 2 “ This is hard work. It’s OK to slow things down. Maybe call for another chocolate break”
Definitely a slob. [Maybe just someone who is tired?]
Voice 3 “I should have opted to stay home. I’m in a filthy mood right now. None of this snow is going to be any good by the time we turn around anyway”
Whiny victim. [Maybe someone who recognizes I love to be home alone?]
Voice 4 “And you’ll be last down the hill as well as up. You’ll fall the whole way down and be an utter disgrace as usual. How long have you been learning how to ski now? When are you going to get it down – eh?”
Sounds like the mum who screams at her kid “You get any closer to the fire and you’ll get burned. Don’t touch the knife, you’ll get cut.” that sort of energy. So maybe I’ll think of this as deeply ineffective Mother. [Maybe someone who loves me but sure expresses it in an off-putting way?]
I went one step farther here – by linking my inner folks to public or well-known fictional characters so I could describe them to other people more vividly.
Step 3 UNDERSTAND THEIR POSITIVE INTENT
Colin showed me how – as he listened to his inner voices and could identify the sort of person who might say these things to him – he was able to discern a potential positive spin in each message. You can probably see it above in the secondary explanations I give in the [brackets].
Now, having done these voices the courtesy of listening to them, identifying their perspective and discerning a positive flip-side to their messages, he had to grant that they each had a decent point: they just made their points appallingly!
In my case let’s see once more how I could understand a positive intent from each message.
Voice 1/ Sergeant Major / Fitness Coach
Says “Can’t you pick up the pace. Look, Mark’s been breaking trail for ages. You’re such a mooch… step it up there”
Positive Intent could be “Keep this up. You’re doing well. Be inspired by Mark and keep on trucking.”
Voice 2/ Slob / Tired Person
Says “ This is hard work. It’s OK to slow things down. Maybe call for another chocolate break”
Positive Intent could be “Boy this is hard. Check your energy – do you need anything?”
Voice 3 / Whiny Victim / Voice of Solitude
Says “I should have opted to stay home. I’m in a filthy mood right now. None of this snow is going to be any good by the time we turn around anyway”
Positive Intent could be “Yes, you had mixed feelings about how to spend this day. Part of you wishes you were home in a deliciously quiet cabin with no agenda right now, right?”
Voice 4 / Ineffective Mum / Caring Mum
Says “And you’ll be last down the hill as well as up. You’ll fall the whole way down and be an utter disgrace as usual. How long have you been learning how to ski now? When are you going to get it down – eh?”
Positive Intent could be “Boy I see how hard it has been for you to learn how to do these telemark turns. You worry that your friends will judge that you should be better at this already. I just worry you’ll judge yourself harshly and get your feelings hurt.”
OK – I understood this.
That I needed to understand the voices.
Step 4 – THANK THEM
Colin said that once the negative voice was tamed by a name, and understood for the possibility of deeper, kind intentions he was grateful for the message.
The voices really were trying to help.
And that perspective changed everything.
Step 5 – LEAD THE PACK
Once you’ve come to recognize your inner perspectives – listened to them, named them, understood them and appreciated their positive intent – you get to experience being the leader. You get to invite the inner characters to come forward and share their presence with you when you are ready for them. If you are trying to be brave, you invite your inner coward to step back and focus on your inner Sargent Major (for example)! And you can certainly coach them to share their points of view with more kindness.
I’ll talk more about the implications of all this tomorrow – for they are huge.
But if indeed you can begin to see yourself as the one who watches these inner characters, or who listens to these inner voices, you may find yourself asking ~
- Who is the One watching?
- Who is the One listening?
the answer to which leads us directly toward the path of self discovery.
I am sure some readers will be appalled at the idea of listening to these inner voices. What if they are telling you to hurt yourself or others? What if these voices are urging to you cut, binge, purge?
I have wondered about that myself, until I recently came upon the work of Dr. Richard Schwartz and the therapeutic work he terms Inner Family Systems.
He came upon ideas like Colin’s and after years of research, and successful work with clients, he is convinced we are all profoundly good at our core. He believes these self-generated voices (he calls them parts) are motivated by positive intent. I’ll be writing more about these ideas – I’m hooked!