We all tell each other to ‘listen to your inner self’. But what if our inner selves are made up of several voices, all saying different things? Perhaps we need to give them all a chance to tell their story, so that we can empathize, and find our peace.
Our minds can be a bit like nations, full of different voices chasing different things. When you look at the country you live in, you will see large numbers of people fighting for different causes, arguing against each other, demonising each other. Minds are the same.
Your job, as Prime Minister of your brain, is to find a way of letting all those different voices be heard. If you don’t, they may start wars against each other, fulled by lack of understanding and intolerance. At the extremes, your embattled inner voices may polarise into audible sounds inside your head, inciting you to do things you don’t want to do, uncontrolled or harmful things. At a more moderate level, the arguments between your inner voices might be felt as anxiety, as unresolved conflict between different inner motivations.
Typical inner conflicts causing anxiety might include a battle between:
- a controlling voice and an oppressed voice
- a fearful voice and a freedom-seeking voice
- a voice that feels inadequate and a voice that feels superhuman
These conflicts can often throw your behaviour off-balance. The tensions can express themselves as follows:
Control/oppression: One minute, you might be barking orders at everyone; the next, crying that everyone is getting at you.
Fear/freedom: One minute you might be sitting there obediently, and the next you might suddenly escape and disappear so that no one can find you for a while.
Inadequacy/superhuman: One minute you might be a quivering wreck saying you are worthless; the next you might be rushing around overachieving.
ROOTS IN CHILDHOOD
Sometimes we inherit different inner voices from our parents and other carers. So if one parent was controlling, and the other was oppressed, you may find your head contains a controlling voice and an oppressed voice. You learned all the phrases of each personality, but the two voices never managed to compromise. So, as an adult, you continue the battle. Until you learn to negotiate peace between the voices, you will continue to fight the fight.
BIG AND SMALL VOICES
You will notice that some of your voices are bigger and louder than others. This might be because you have learned a highly-developed language for one voice, but not for another. Maybe, when you are alone, you have a highly-developed and loud organisation voice, which insists that you plan your every moment. Maybe your freedom inner voice, that just wants to sit in peace, gets drowned out, because Organisation Voice has all the well-developed arguments.
LISTENING TO EACH VOICE
Try not to divide your mind into valid and invalid voices. Try to listen to, and empathise with, each one. Ask it what it wants, and listen carefully. Let it blow off steam, so that it knows it is being heard.
Don’t make the mistake of not listening to the difficult voices. A self-critical inner voice, for instance, might be seeking justification and validation. So ask it what it wants, empathize, and listen to its answer. It may be that once it has had its say, it calms down, and lets other voices have a go.
DEVELOPING HEALTHY NARRATIVES
Healthy narratives are inner voices which offer you a balanced view of the world and your self. If you are stuck in the control/oppression loop, then try developing an inner voice that mediates between the two, and lets you have some freedom, whilst maintaining some structure. If you are stuck in the fear/freedom loop, try developing an inner voice that allows you to take progressive, manageable steps to freedom. If you are stuck in the inadequacy/superhuman loop, try developing an inner voice that lets you take on moderate, manageable tasks. It’s all about finding a balance, learning to negotiate between extremes.
Counselling can help you to identify your inner conflicts, and find ways to mediate between them. You may find yourself developing more healthy inner voices which allow you to stop wavering between extremes, and start living a more balanced life. Think of yourself as a mind full of extreme voices that want to be heard. Once they are listened to, they become less extreme, since they trust you and the world to meet their needs. You are, in effect, learning to be a good parent to yourself.
Don’t expect your inner self to be only one voice. Probably you are a mess of conflicting voices, fighting it out. Learn to listen to each one carefully, until it feels properly heard. Then seek to negotiate middle ways which allow you to live more happily. If necessary, use a counsellor to help you work through the conflicts; this gives time for all the aspects of you to be listened to and empathized with. This can make life more manageable, because you develop a more accommodating self-talk or self-narrative.