The Voice Within
How do you talk to yourself? What words or messages do you hear when you listen inward? Is the voice encouraging or critical? Compassionate or judgmental? What are the stories you tell about yourself?
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) we call the part of us that is able to observe our thoughts, feelings, and reactions our observing self. This self-reflective quality is unique to human beings. Our observing self allows us to look at our thoughts objectively, rather than through the lens of our thoughts.
The messages and narratives we tell ourselves can have a huge impact on our lives. It can affect our emotions, our actions, and our self-esteem. They can help us feel encouraged and calm, or anxious and overwhelmed. They can guide our decision-making and shape our relationship to the world around us.
For a long time I found myself caught up in the "not good enough" narrative. The result was years of anxiety, holding myself back from pursuing something because I anticipated it wouldn't happen for me anyways, and constantly giving in to other's requests because I wanted to be liked.
It wasn't until graduate school that I allowed myself to really examine this narrative. It certainly wasn't helping me to fully reach my potential. By being able to see and label this narrative, I was eventually able to look at it with a new perspective. While the "not good enough" narrative kept me constantly striving to do and be better, my self-esteem was taking a massive hit. I felt scared to take on risks or of saying something that might upset someone else. I was constantly comparing myself to others who I felt had it more figured out than me. Maybe you've experienced something similar.
Eventually I was able to practice a more compassionate stance towards myself. I was then able to see myself as enough simply because I am a human being and that my worth was not something I needed to prove. This new perspective allowed me to let go of some of the beliefs I was holding about myself.
That's not to say that the inner critic doesn't chirp in now and again, warning me "That's still not good enough." However, I've come to the place where I can observe the thought, examine it, and determine if that thought helps me. In some ways, I'm grateful for my inner critic. She's only trying to help me be a better human who is accepted by those around me and who wants me to succeed. However, there are still times when I have to acknowledge what she has to say and kindly move myself in a different direction.
Over the years I have learned to strengthen another voice, my inner cheerleader. The soccer mom in me that yells "You're doing great sweetie! Keep it up!" She reminds me "It's ok if you fall and scrape your knees, just get up, dust yourself off, and keep going." I like my soccer mom voice. This voice compassionately allows me to fail and struggle as I continue to grow, and encourages me along the way.
In what areas of your life do you find your critical voice creeping up? What does your inner-critic tell you? Can you look at the messages this voice tells you in a neutral way, seeing both where it has served you and where it holds you back? What does your inner cheerleader sound like?
All I know is, there's enough judgment in the world around us. We can all do to be a bit kinder to ourselves. Stay tuned for some more tips to practice a more compassionate stance towards yourself.
Harris, R. (2008). The happiness trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston, MA, US: Trumpeter Books.
Simmons, Rachel (2018) Enough as she is: How to help girls move beyond impossible standards of success to live healthy, happy, and fulfilling lives. New York, NY, US: HarperCollins Publishers.