Whose voice is in your head? Who’s saying proudly, “Good job,” or contemptuously, “What do you think is going on?” Obviously, we all use self-talk, that inner conscious communication from within; but have you ever stopped to ask yourself, whose voice is that? It wasn’t always there. So, where did it come from and how does it choose what messages to give? Who decides when it’s okay to praise versus when you need a good beating?
As an infant, you didn’t even have an outer voice, forget about an inner one. All we heard came from the adults who raised us. When you were hungry, you cried, and didn’t know why until the sing-songy baby talk cooed, “Aw, is the baby hungry? Yes, you are. Here baby, have some milk so no more hungry.” Instruction and care sounded like love, and you needed to hear this.
When you were the little boy who fell and skinned your knee, it hurt. All that rang in your head was, “Aaaaaagh!” You shrieked in pain and cried. The only soothing soft voice came from someone big that held you and calmly repeated that it would be okay. And when you got bigger the message was similar but the tone didn’t have that same calming effect. It was a little more biting and sounded like judgment when it snapped, “Don’t cry, you’re a big boy now, you’ll be okay.”
The older you got the expectations grew and the voices would sometimes shout, “Wow! That’s great,” and, “I’m so proud of you.” In fact, you found many times you couldn’t argue, you did give it your all, you tried your best, and you pulled it out in the end just like everyone knew you could. Of course, that was all mixed in with instances of, “What on Earth were you thinking?” and, “Really? What is your problem?”
Then, of course, as you matured, there she was, this amazing creature that made your face flush and palms sweat as you stammered about something so stupid even you didn’t understand it. How you won her affections, you had no idea. And when she tossed you out like the leftovers forgotten overnight in a car, you still had no idea what happened. All you knew is that your heart no longer sang. In fact, the silence was deafening until a little voice popped up to save your sanity by offering up reasons that were self-deprecating, at best. “If I weren’t such a loser she’d still like me.”
Where did that come from? How can there be such a difference between your inner child and your inner man? Maybe by the time we develop self-talk the messages we’re getting from the outside aren’t as soothing and inspiring, as they were when we were babies. Whatever the reason is, though, for most of us, it’s just the way it is. That is until you decide to change it. Although, at times it may seem like the disembodied voice of logical explanation, the truth about your inner dialogue is, you control it.
It honestly doesn’t matter whose voice it was in the beginning. It may have been language that was meant to protect you or educate you. But the message wasn’t about you not being good enough; it was about the worry and insecurity of your caregiver, most likely, doing the best they knew how. It wasn’t intended to operate as your guidance system throughout your lifespan. Geesh, if they had thought that, they wouldn’t be so bewildered when later, sometime in your twenties, it comes up as blame and shame-on-them for everything wrong in your world.
That’s the rub, isn’t it? Now you’re the grown up, and what your deep manly voice says to others doesn’t always match up with your inside voice, the one no one else hears. Are you telling the world how wonderful you are, how you deserve that raise, and how you’ll take care of your family forever? All the while, on the inside, you’re hearing, “Who are you kidding? You can’t do this.” You want to believe what you say out loud, and a part of you does. But another part of you is still hearing that worry and insecurity you heard as a child as if it’s a recording going off automatically.
The great news is; you can fix this. First, be forgiving of yourself, and repeat, “You’ll be okay,” because you will. Begin to talk to yourself with the same care and love that you give to others. Remember, if it’s good enough for your mom, your wife, or your child, then it’s good enough for you. If you aren’t sure about the words you should choose, ask yourself this, would I ever say this to my best friend?
If you lock yourself out of the house, instead of the automatic, “Ugh, I’m such an idiot,” stop yourself and think, “Bummer, I hate when this happens.” Or, let’s say your wife asks you to buy a particular gift for your parents’ anniversary but you chose something else instead, and now she’s upset. Don’t assault yourself with, “I should’ve known better, I never make anyone happy.” Replace that instead with a pep talk, “It’s okay, your idea wasn’t bad, but she’s just not feeling it.”
Self-talk is as much about self-love as it is about the narration. Loving the man you’ve become–the good, the bad, and the ugly–is a rite of passage. And all of those old messages, whether they served a purpose or not, are certainly old news. You don’t need to hit play anymore to maintain rapport with yourself. As a final thought, consider this, since you’re the voice in your head, you’re the one who’s in charge of saying just what you need to hear most. Trust that you’re worthy of receiving the same patience, understanding, and tolerance you offer.
Photo: Flickr/ Truthout.org