Your Internal Voice
by Dr. Alicia Meyer
I recently watched a fascinating documentary on Netflix called, “Look At Us Now, Mother!” It’s the story of an adult Jewish woman working through her issues and anger with her mother. The woman, who is also the documentary film maker, tells a powerful story of hurt and pain throughout her lifetime relationship with her mother, and goes as far as bringing cameras into therapy sessions with her mom. Ultimately, it is a story of forgiveness. I believe that the filmmaker, Gayle Kirschenbaum, made the film to capture her courageous fight to be able to forgive her mother, whether or not her mother would ever be able to own the ways she failed her. I won’t tell you how it ends but you can watch it on Netflix and I would highly encourage you to do so. It’s a powerful story with many universal themes. The filmmaker has gone on to do a TedTalk on Forgiveness and that is also worth checking out.
The film website can be found here: https://www.lookatusnowmother.com
Gayle’s TedTalk is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQauQRDCwDM&feature=youtu.be
As a therapist, and also as a fellow sojourner working through my own story of hurts, I really resonated with Gayle’s story in her film. We all have hurts and pain from our history. We all can relate to needing to let go and forgive, for our own sake and our own ability to move forward with our lives, not just for what it can offer the person who hurt us. Being unable to forgive can keep us stuck and allow the hurts we’ve experienced to fester. Gayle’s desire to invite others into a journey of forgiveness through sharing her own story taps into a central theme in therapeutic work. We all have to come to a place of being able to forgive if we want to move forward.
As I’ve reflected on Gayle’s film and her steps toward forgiveness I’ve thought a lot about my clients and the work we are doing together. Aside from forgiveness, another central theme I find coming up time and again in my office is the theme of internal voice.
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” — Peggy O’Mara
I have heard this quote used a number of times to talk about parenting and why it is important to be gentle with our children. This quote should challenge us in our parenting (I also think that modern parenting places a ton of pressure on parents and sometimes we don’t need one. more. thing. to worry about but I’ll save those thoughts for another post...), it is always good to be challenged to be a more thoughtful parent. But what most strikes me about this quote is how it also begs this question, “What inner voice did you internalize from your parents?”
I have come to see that when a therapy client is feeling particularly stuck in her life it is often because he/she has some internal voice speaking to her in very unkind ways. Our internal voices can usually be traced back to significant experiences from our past. These experiences weave together to become our inner truths we believe about ourself. Sometimes the inner voice says, “Why am I even trying? I'm never good at this kind of thing.” or, “You’ll never be good enough to be truly loved.” or “I'm not worth someone else’s time and attention.” or “There’s really nothing special about me.” or “The world is not a safe place.” or “I have to look out for myself because no one else is going to.” This list could go on and on.
Forgiveness is so important and necessary but sometimes we also need practical ways to shed the skin of our pain in order for new, healthy growth to take over. When I work with clients on inner voice the first step we take is helping them to become mindfully aware of their inner dialogue. You can’t change negative self talk if you don’t even recognize when you are doing it. Learning to observe our thoughts helps us to see when we are being unfairly critical. Once we gain some ability to recognize when we are being unkind to ourselves we need to work on creating a new inner voice. In the beginning this is very difficult because a new and kinder voice is not yet our own. I encourage clients during this time to work on borrowing their kinder voice. If a client has an overly critical inner voice I have them think of someone who exemplifies the opposite of that trait. It can be a family member, a friend, a coworker, your therapist, a celebrity or even a fictional character. In the case of a critical inner voice, the trait that feels the opposite of that may be someone who oozes confidence or perhaps someone who has a "screw you" attitude and never lets anyone get to them. It could be a child who looks up to you and is in awe of you so everything you do seems remarkable. Whatever the tone is of the unhealthy inner voice, find the opposite representation, and when you notice your critical voice setting in, imagine what the person who represents the opposite of that voice would say to you. “You are a total bad ass. You’ve got this.” “You are good enough.” “The truth is that I AM beautiful.” If you borrow those words for long enough, eventually they start to become your own.
Forgiveness is so important but trading out our critical voice for a kinder gentler one is also a necessary step on the journey.
What does your inner voice sound like? How do you speak to yourself? Is there anything you need to change about that? What kinder truths can you claim for yourself?