Self-talk & Compassion: Part 2
“ ‘The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast you first must make it beautiful.’ “ – Kay Redfield Jamison, author of The Unquiet Mind
I always tell my clients that before we can change our self-talk, we have to know what we are working with. I like to start off by asking this question: what does our inner voice sound like? If we were to anthropomorphize our inner voice, what would that look like? It can be very difficult for us to imagine what this voice sounds/looks like, because we do not always think the same way that we talk. In fact, we do not always think in words and complete sentences. I think in a series of random images, memories, song clips, etc. So if it is difficult for you to follow these steps on how to personify our inner voice, know that it IS hard.
Strategies on how to identify your inner voice:
- If we were to imagine that there is a voice in our head that is speaking to us, what would this sound like? Does it remind you of someone you already know in person, or someone you have heard elsewhere? Is it your own voice?
Another way to approach this task is to pretend like you are narrating your life as if it were a book written in the first person. The narrator describes what the main character (i.e. you) are doing, but also can describe what the main is thinking and feeling at each moment. Consider this excerpt from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:
“Something very painful was going on in Harry’s mind. As Hagrid’s story came to a close, he saw again the blinding flash of green light, more clearly than he had ever remembered it before — and he remembered something else, for the first time in his life: a high, cold, cruel laugh.
Hagrid was watching him sadly.”
- Now that you have a voice in your mind, consider the qualities of the voice:
- Is this voice male or female? Genderless? Is the voice even human?
- Does it speak softly, as in a whisper, or is it loud as if it were screaming?
- What kind of words is this voice using? Does it speak in English or your native language? Is it even speaking in words, or do you find yourself attuning more to the tone?
- Is the voice high-pitched with a lot of treble, or low-pitched with a low of bass?
- What rate is this voice speaking? Is this voice talking fast that you can barely keep up? Or is it talking at an easy-to-follow pace?
- What tone is this voice speaking? Does the voice sound angry, nervous, or even disappointed? How would you describe the feelings behind the voice?
- Allow yourself to get really creative with the process of personifying your inner voice, and create an actual character. The movie Inside Out depicts this well, in which there are individual characters to personify five emotions (Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Angry, and Fear) in the mind of Riley, the main character. If you were to put a visual depiction of your voice, what would this character look like. If this character is actually you, how would that version you be different from the real you?
I came across my own inner voice somewhat by accident one day. I cannot remember exactly what I was doing, but I recalled hearing a loud buzzing in my ear. As I tuned into the buzzing, I realized that the buzzing I thought I was hearing was actually like a loud screaming. For some reason I knew that this “voice” was a product of my mind, and it was not something I thought was outside of myself. I could not make out what words this voice was saying, but I knew it sounded angry. The moment I “heard” the voice, it fell quiet. However, my body felt like it was on edge: my heart was beating fast, my breathing was shallow like I was panting, and my body felt tense. I took a moment to calm myself down. That moment helped me recognize how powerful our inner voice can be. I was not consciously aware of how on edge I was until I “heard” the inner voice. I was not simply aware that I had been going about my day as if I was being punished for something.
- Now that you have created your “character”, consider these questions for yourself:
- How does this inner voice make you feel? Like I mentioned above, my inner voice at that moment made me feel anxious and on edge.
- How often does this voice “speak” to you? Does it play on the background throughout the day?
- And here is the kicker: What is the purpose of this voice? Is it to punish you? Is it to push yourself to be better? What function does this voice serve in your life?
On the next part of this blog series, we will discuss how to use a similar strategy to develop a compassionate inner voice, the inner voice that we will use to work on positive self-talk.
NOTE: When you first begin to attempt to personify your inner voice, it can help to be in a safe and comfortable environment with no distractions. Also be aware that this type of experience may be distressing for some. You may need to have an activity or a support person at hand in the event that you may need something to help you cope with distress. Also, allow yourself to take a break from this process if it becomes too intense.
Jazzmin Villanueva, Psy.D.