We were in London, one of our favorite cities. Visiting, having fun and … in my case, struggling at the same time. As usual, I was leading a double life: the one I lived out in the open, laughing, talking, cracking jokes or simply doing life and the much more intense one inside, putting up with the voices on constant repeat, the judging, the should-ing. At times, the intensity of my inside life got so high that it overflowed into my external life and I just spiraled. So it was not lost on me when I sat down to wait for a bus and, on the bench right next to me, I found a card. Black and white, just simple writing: Tell your voices that meet inside your head to sit down and shut up. The poor universe! It was reaching desperation with me so it was calling for desperate measures.
The issue with voices that build up in our head is not that they exist, it is that we believe them. And more so, that we have a hard time distinguishing them from our conscience. When we internalize beliefs very early in our lives, it is very hard to tell what is truly you and what is other made discourse.
One of the phrases I was brought up with has always made me insanely mad: Come on, what will people think? Reluctantly or not, I learned to live my life constantly looking outward for validation, on every little thing I did, on how I looked or what I considered important.
I realized at some point that nobody but me will fix what ailed me and so I have been a self help and therapy junkie for the better part of my life. Yet, I still fall pray to voices in my head which aren’t mine. One thing I have understood repeatedly and maybe one that these days I might actually internalize is that language is power. What we tell ourselves about our actions, about the things we do well but especially about the things we fail to do as well as we wish is a way to shape or reshape our thoughts and behavior. Our brain hears the way we talk to ourselves and, what is worse, believes it and acts on it.
The power of language is what made me pay attention this week to one important discussion with Dr. Becky Kennedy, a parenting expert. For all of us, not just our kids. In one of my favorite podcast episodes on We Can Do Hard Things, Dr. Kennedy is asked to offer one small hard thing we can do to make a difference, to reparent ourselves. She immediately went to language, to the way we talk to ourselves:
And Dr. Becky, what’s one thing that’s a very little thing that they can do not to parent their kids better, all right? I don’t know how much I can overemphasize. That’s not what we’re doing here. I know that’s what you’re doing, Dr. Becky, but I care about the pod squaders, not their kids, their little hearts. Okay? I care about you. And so what can the grown up people listening to this pod squad do? It’s a little thing that will help them reparent themselves.
Dr. Becky Kennedy:
So I think right now, if you think about something that you hold with a lot of shame, right? It’s something you did today, it’s something you did years ago, it’s some moment or behavior you remember and you’re like, it just feels that awful shame feeling. Then, form this fill-in-the-blank sentence with it. I’m a good person who. So mine might be, I’m a good person who yelled at my kids this morning. That formula I find is the simplest way to remind your body that who I am as a person inside is separate from this thing or this decision or this behavior that I really don’t feel proud of.