The "Voice” Is a Sneaky, Tricky Thing

critical inner voice

I awaited this time with dread. My family was going off to Europe without me, and I had visions of myself being home alone with my dialysis machine, (the reason I couldn’t travel) miserable and depressed. As it turns out, I’m actually feeling great, rediscovering what it is that I want to do with my time, and gaining some perspective on myself.

One big element in my feeling great emotionally is the fact that I’m finally feeling pretty well physically. After being clobbered by the vitality sucking effects of a chronic illness, I have started to regain some energy, the likes of which I haven’t experienced in years. With this, I have reached out to friends for socializing and dived into projects that have been neglected—gardening, painting, and random home improvements. I’m having fun and am savoring the sense of accomplishment. I love the feeling of setting out to do something and then doing it. These aren’t exotic adventures in far away lands, but I’m so happy to be able to enjoy life’s simple pleasures again.

For three years now, I have berated myself for being tired and not getting anything accomplished. I only now realize, with a newfound, mini-spring in my step, that I wasn’t being a lazy procrastinator (my frequent self-criticism), but rather, I simply physically could not muster the energy. There was no gas in my tank (in medical terms, extremely low hemoglobin levels). I feel sad that I have been so hard on myself and couldn’t see that I just needed to give myself a break. It feels better to have some compassion than to beat myself up.

This is a classic example of how we can be so turned against ourselves and not even know it. It’s a tricky thing. The negative inner voice in my head was not very “loud,” under the radar most of the time, I was barely aware of its presence.  I thought I was handling it by ignoring the critical thoughts or by telling myself that I was in fact sick. But now I can see what a huge impact the self-criticism has had on me, and since I am out of the forest with some energy I can see how real my limitations were, like physiological shackles, and how much I unnecessarily castigated myself.

While I may have turned a corner in terms of my increased energy, I’m sure this self-attack has not gone away for good. It’s clearly the tendency I have and it will need more attention. I’m just beginning to see where this condemning thought process comes from in my own personal history. Key for me was to ask, who is it I am identifying with when I hold this point of view about myself?” Interestingly, no one ever said anything of the sort to me. I never even heard anyone complain that this was their personal problem, so it didn’t come from any obvious role modeling. But as I dug a little deeper, I framed the question in a different way: Who am I identifying with by believing that I am powerless to accomplish anything? Then, it hit me.  The crux of the voice is “you are powerless.” I had no idea how intensely this notion ran through me. And I can see very clearly where this belief system came from and why. I internalized this belief about myself by being around that attitude growing up.

What is that nagging thing that you are constantly criticizing yourself for? What exactly are you saying to yourself? Where does it come from? Does having this point of view identify you with someone from your early life experiences? It’s a beneficial line of exploration and “becoming aware of the voice” is one of the most valuable contributions Dr. Robert Firestone, The Glendon Association and PsychAlive offer in helping us get right with ourselves.

Other Posts by This Author:
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Open to Emotion
Gaining Awareness Through Loss

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