You know that little voice (or plural! little voices!) that start firing off in your head for sometimes no particular reason? Or sometimes with good reason— because you’re thinking about doing something risky, or you just did or said something that made you feel squishy… then BAM, there they are.
"Why did you say that?!?”
"Are you serious with this whole [big important project]? People will find out what a fraud/jerk/loser you are."
"Are you really going to wear those pants?”
"I don’t think you’re smart enough."
"I don’t think you’re thin enough."
"I don’t think you’re good-looking enough."
"You’re not straight enough for those people to like you."
"You’re not light-skinned enough for those people to like you."
"Only able-bodied people should do that."
(I’m gonna stop there— not only do you get the idea, but it’s kinda triggering me just writing them out and seeing the words. OY! DEMONS!)
Demons are tricky mofos to deal with. A lot of self-help memes and Pinterest boards will tell you to just ignore them. Don’t listen!, they scream. You’re wonderful and amazing!
I don’t know about you, but, uh, that never worked for me. In fact, trying to shout down my demons only made them stronger. JERKS.
I used to work with a brilliant woman named Karen Kingsley, and she was the first person to introduce me to the idea that those voices in my head were not aliens that needed to be fought and destroyed. And, that the voices were also the different parts of myself that had lots of competing and conflicting needs. “They’re part of you, all those little personalities,” she said. “Think of them like neighbors or coworkers: you don’t really get to choose who those people are, and you can’t get rid of them, but you have to deal with them over time. It’s up to you how you do that. Can you at least get along in a baseline way with them?”
Personifying my internal chatterbots was the first revolutionary step. After a while, I even starting naming them, mostly after pop-culture characters. (My friend Anne has a personality facet that she calls Leslie Knope, which makes my heart burst.) Sometimes I draw them; for years, they’ve been little stick figures in hard-hats that argue via committee about what I’m doing with myself.
Why is personifying the voices so revolutionary?
Because you can TALK to them. NO SHIT, FOR REAL.
One of my therapists (therapy: highly recommended, in multiple forms) asked me to start having conversations with those voices. Even write them out! Ask them: Where did that crap you just spewed at me come from? Be patient and compassionate and listen.
Especially to the demons, the really nasty jerky voices. Yes, I want you to be especially compassionate with them.
One of the hardest things I’ve learned (and really, only pretty recently) is why the demons are out to get me. I thought about this intellectually for a really long time; it doesn’t make sense to me, for example, from an evolutionary perspective that my own self (and selves) would not want me to be successful, blissful, fulfilled. Like, wouldn’t I, in theory, produce better, stronger offspring if that were the case? Why are they OUT TO GET ME, I ask!?
I dug in deep with this guy. And he finally told me the secret: he’s afraid. Terrified as hell. I asked him, what are you afraid of? And he said, “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
"Um, demon, WTF? You yelling at me all the time is pretty painful."
"Yeah, maybe," he said. "But we know that pain. We know what it feels like and how to deal with it. Familiar pain is WAY better than unknown pain.”
Oh my God. He thinks he’s protecting me by not letting me take risks, by holding me back.
"Demon," I said. "Wow. Thank you. That’s so kind, really, that you love me so much you don’t want me to get hurt. But you know what? Let’s try it my way, just this once, and see what happens. We can talk about it after. I promise, we’re equipped to deal with the pain if there is any, and just maybe, it will be AWESOME."
He doesn’t like it when we have these chats, but he can’t really argue. So, he sits in the corner and smokes cigarettes. He smokes so I don’t have to.
And we are learning together to take some risks, here and there, sometimes, without his constant berating. So far, so good.
I’m reblogging this not only because I’m mentioned with one of my own little voices here (Hi, Leslie!) but because Deanna shared this approach with me a while ago and has taught me a lot about myself (THANK YOU!). Pass it on, listen to your voices.