What To Do About that Mean Critical Voice In Your Head

Written by Kate • December 12, 2018 •
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As I’ve visualized a different way to live, dropping behaviors and habits that don’t serve me- all the while doing it imperfectly, I find my mind whispering critical and painful thoughts to me. Before this shift, these thoughts were there but I was attaching to them and allowing them to have their way with me without noticing their presence or effects on my life.

To be clear about the “voice”, it’s not some voice whispering to me do violent things. It’s just the self talk that occurs on a daily basis that we normally are so identified with that we can’t separate it from our true self.  But we are the container who can witness the self talk and therefore, we are not the “voices” in our head. Our true self is the witness to the thoughts. But I’m using an easy convention of a “voice” in my head to describe what’s been going on with me as I make changes in my life.

In the past few weeks, I’ve cleaned up my act. I’ve had some painful conversations with important people in my life about what I need. I’ve been as kind as I can in saying what I need.  But telling the truth about some changes I need to make in my life has made me feel vulnerable.  That I may have cast myself adrift from my usual moorings and I feel like I may be abandoned at any point, which can feel like death.

Now, demonstrably, no one is abandoning me and I’m not going to die if they did. It’s just a new and scary place for me and goes against pretty much everything about how I was raised. The subtext, the subconscious message given in how I was raised, was:

  • Give till it hurts your soul and then keep giving, because it’s not really giving unless it hurts to do it.
  • Don’t worry about your own needs. Just worry about what the family needs.
  • And whatever you do, don’t follow your own inner compass.
  • Stay small so you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

It’s long past time for me to finally bring these internalized messages to the light to heal and release them.  They are, each of them, so wrong.  But in casting them aside and actually being authentic, telling the truth, and following my own inner compass feels incredibly scary at times. Like I’m betraying my family and going against our “tribe’s code”.

The painful conversations I’ve had recently felt scary to do but they were the right thing to do. On the other side of the conversation, I feel a sense of peace, a rightness to it. And my courage muscle feels like it’s gotten a bit of work out and I’m stronger for it.

But yesterday, I began to be aware of the mean, critical voice whispering quiet scenarios of doom and destruction, emotionally speaking. And for once, because I wasn’t immediately attaching to them, I became aware of what the voice was saying.  Mainly the feeling that these scenarios engendered in me was of fear, that I wasn’t safe. It was quite disempowering and I wanted to escape from what I was feeling.  I thought about have a few drinks after the twins went to bed so I could feel better. And I was definitely not in body much yesterday.  I certainly ate too much as a way to cope with these feelings my old thought patterns were engendering.

But Pema Chodron’s lesson of staying, of witnessing the feelings and just staying through it without reacting came to mind. Pema, who is beyond awesome, talking about how these types of feelings can be likened to a wound that’s not yet healed. This wound can itch as it’s healing and the worse thing you can do is scratch it. Scratching the would can open it up again and you have to start the healing process all over again. So she says you just stay with the itch. Above all don’t give in to the need to scratch it. Just stay. Scratching the itch is a metaphor for avoiding the painful thoughts and feelings in your life which are causing you to pop out of the present moment and doing anything to resist what is going on in your life. Behaviors such as eating too much, drinking alcohol, gambling, spending too much, the usual suspects in how you avoid feeling your feelings and doing something to make you feel better.

This lesson came to me again as these thoughts burned me up with the resultant feelings caused by being scared of saying an uncomfortable truth. And in some strange way, I realized that there is this powerful, old behavior pattern that was struggling to assert itself. This old behavior is to having a few drinks in order to feel better, which I’ve been doing practically my whole damn life.

[As a child, I saw how my parents used alcohol to calm themselves down and I internalized this message oh so long ago. My mom came home after having been in a car accident, shaken up and a bit distraught. My Dad strode over to the liquor cabinet and made her a rum and coke, which she threw back. The stiff drink immediately calmed her nerves and helped her “feel” better rather by avoiding the uncomfortable feelings. The drink helped her avoid the truth, helped her avoid just letting her feelings come up, be dealt with, and dissolve. And I remember thinking, ah, so this is how we deal with strong emotions].

Now, I’m not blaming my parents. They probably learned that from their parents. I’m saying that a really old and powerful thought and behavior pattern arose in me yesterday and I finally became aware of it in the moment and I didn’t give in to it. I didn’t scratch the wound. Instead I let it come up with its powerful drive to reward it with my habitual patterns and I just witnessed it. I have to say it felt like it burned my brain and my nervous system for a bit and the whole situation was acutely uncomfortable.  But I allowed it without resisting it and instead found myself curious about what was happening.

I know physiologically speaking that the reward center of my brain was jonesing for the dopamine hit that came with responding to these types of thoughts and feelings with a drink and when I didn’t give in to or resist what was happening, my brain’s reward system didn’t like what I was doing. It’s time to create a new behavior pattern that doesn’t involve scratching the wound, that doesn’t involve escaping what is through booze, food, distractions of any sort. Instead, I’ll allow what is and I’ll find the peace that follows it far more rewarding to my brain, my nervous system, and my soul that any temporary distraction could provide.

So when the mean, critical voice arises in your head, try to allow it to come up on your mental screen so you can witness it consciously. Allow it to come up and allow the feelings to be there too. Witness the whole behavior pattern. Allow it. Try to not give in to it and also don’t resist it, which somehow causes it to burst forth later as a deep urge. Just be the space in which is arises, you witness it in all its facets, and allow it subside.

At first, it will be tedious and somewhat unpleasant to go against very ingrained behavior patterns. But through acceptance and non-resistance, the behavior patterns will dissipate, become less strong. And then the new, healthier behavior pattern will be the new normal and you won’t have to the thoughts and feelings much after that until they just fade into memory.

An Easy Short Cut- Change Me Prayers

Of course, a great way to get a boost in helping you adopt new behavior patterns is through Change Me prayers. Tosha Silver, another amazing light out there, has a great way of asking for Divine help to just change you into someone who no longer has these urges. Praying for healing, with true feeling, can give you such a boost on this path. Definitely something worth trying if it speaks to you!


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