There is a voice in my head that has consumed my life for over 20 years, and it tells me a lot of crappy stuff. Maybe you can relate. Here’s a quick summary of what it has to say:
- Making mistakes is a character flaw.
- You don’t make enough money, and the amount of money you make determines your worth.
- Your brother doesn’t call you because he is embarrassed by you. That’s also the reason why none of his friends knew you existed.
- You keep attracting bad employers because you yourself are bad.
- You need to be stern and serious and rigid. It’s not OK to be happy all the time — Being overly happy is ridiculous.
So that’s the voice that bullies and reprimands me. But there is another voice — One that I’ve tapped into over the last few years — that has a much kinder take on who I am, and what I have to offer the world.
It’s not so much in my head but in my heart, and it’s got a lot of kind and comforting things to say, such as:
- Human beings were made to make mistakes. And you are human. So your mistakes are inevitable and natural, and not a character flaw.
- You have enough money to feed, clothe, house, and create a savings account for yourself. If you want to make more of it, work on releasing your fears surrounding it. (PS: I’m reading a great book about that right now)
- Your brother doesn’t call you because he is busy. And the reason he doesn’t talk about you with his friends is that he is so focused on his life that he doesn’t feel the need to share details about his family.
- You are not bad. You are learning to release the need to be surrounded by negativity and aggression. And you’re doing a really good job of it.
- It is safe to be happy, even if you were raised to believe otherwise.
So depending on the day, there are some seriously conflicting beliefs rumbling through me, which lends itself to a bit of confusion. Although logic would dictate that the second voice offers the most constructive conclusions, I am excessively familiar with the negative one. I’ve gotten up close and personal with it for over 20 years, and have built a sort of toxic trust with it — I’ve taught myself to believe what it tells me.
Choosing to accept the second voice — the one telling me things I’ve never known to be true— has been a challenge. Some days I have faith in the foreign assertions and graciously accept them. While on others, I just don’t have it in me, so I default to what I know.
I see a lot of folks out there claiming it’s as simple as swapping out a negative for a positive. Heck, I’ve been one of those people at one point or another, because I wanted so much for it to be true. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a really good thing to get in the habit of doing, but science proves it’s not so simple.
These are subconscious beliefs, and those suckers aren’t so easy to change, particularly after years of programming. On top of that is the physiological stress response to the negative thoughts we have(1). This stress response triggers the amygdala, which over time becomes more reactive to apparent threats, like our negative thoughts. This results in anxiety, even when there is no perceived threat.
And then the hippocampus — which assists in developing conscious and clear memories of what actually happened — get’s worn the F out by the repetitive stress response. This makes it harder to create new, positive memories because we are overloaded with the bad ones. So pretty soon our brains get overwhelmed with all the stress-inducing thoughts, and we end up in a state of chronic fear and anxiety — with no clarity on how the heck it all came to be.
Then we bash ourselves for how we feel. And others minimize our struggle, with dangerous statements like, “Just think something different,” or “What do you have to be stressed about? My life is harder than yours.”
It can be wildly difficult to shake heavily engrained beliefs. We have to work hard at eliciting a relaxation response (more on that in the coming weeks), in order to keep the stress from consuming our bodies and minds and creating dis-ease. We essentially have to re-train our brains, a process that takes a lot of time and a strong commitment.
And we do have to swap out negatives for positives, but with the understanding that it’s not going to be a one-off act: they will keep coming back to haunt us. And there may still be times when we wonder what voice is right: when we follow the crappy thoughts down the rabbit hole and have to pull ourselves back out. But we have to commit to the process, even when it seems easier to just let ourselves fall backward into the abyss.
Because one voice accepts — the other rejects.
One creates peace, while the other creates discontent.
One voice is love, while the other is hate.
Life to me these days is about figuring out which voice to listen to, and cultivating kind messages instead of hateful ones — about myself and others. It’s about choosing to love myself, by choosing to reject the voice that hurts me.
It’s about chipping away at the beliefs that tell me I am less than, and replacing the chips with ones that tell me I am more than.
It’s swapping out a less than (< )with a greater than (>), and realizing that when you choose to believe positive thoughts about yourself, the equation balances out like never before.
What does the voice in your head tell you? Something crappy? If so, I urge you to look for other beliefs — ones that support you achieving a state of wellness, rather than a state of discontent. Start chipping away at the crappy thoughts. I’ll be doing it with you.
(1) Rankin, Lissa, M.D. The Fear Cure, ed (2015).
If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter yet, please do below. I share stories and wellness resources about twice a month. 🙂