I have been talking to a lot of people lately who are struggling with the residual negative voices life has planted in their heads. We all have some, but it seems the ones my friends are wrestling with are screaming at a deafening and non-stop rate. The voices say things like, “You’re a skinny little wretch.” “You’re not smart enough to go to that school.” “You will never truly be what you want because you just aren’t good enough.” “You are a bad person and no one likes you.” “You can never make it without me.” “You are too fat.” “You are too thin.” “You are too stupid, too old, too young, too ugly, too pretty, too male, too female, too religious, too lacking in faith, too light, too dark, too you.”
Some of these voices still linger in my head. For the most part I have thrown them out, but occasionally one will sneak back in. When I was in seminary, one of my professors said he had graded our papers and was going to return them. In that instant, I no longer heard his voice. I heard my father saying that I was getting a bad grade because I wasn’t smart enough to get a good one. After class I asked my professor if I had done okay on the paper. He looked at me in a rather startled manner and said I had done fine. In that moment, finally, his voice spoke louder than my father’s. My professor knew that I was a survivor and I said, “Perhaps it is time I stop listening to the voice of my illiterate father in my head.” There was nothing my professor needed to say, but he just smiled in an understanding and caring way.
As I look at the list of negative messages posted above, there is a common theme I see in them. There is a deep seated lack of self-confidence in each voice. It is not a lack of self-confidence on the hearer, but will eventually turn into that. It is a lack of self-confidence and self-hatred on the part of the speaker. The person saying these things often has heard them from others in their lives. The words get lodged in the person’s sense of self and block the true humanity and specialness of that person. That person, never being able to silence those voices, passes them on to others; thereby poisoning the next person’s sense of self. And we just keep passing it on.
We can often learn not pass it on to others, but we eat ourselves alive by doing it to ourselves. There comes a point that the negative person doesn’t even have to say the negative things anymore. We become so skilled at running ourselves down, we can do it silently with great vigor and fierceness.
And while it might be easy to say, “Oh, it doesn’t bother anybody else. I’m not hurting anyone but myself,” let me be clear about one thing. You matter. It does matter that you are hurting yourself. People pick up on it even if you don’t think they do. Sexual and domestic violence perpetrators feed on that kind of energy. They see someone treating themselves poorly and see a perfect target. If you don’t even care how you treat yourself, why will you tell me to stop? You love me right? So I can do whatever it is I please and you won’t say a word.
Kids pick up on it. Kids see us looking at ourselves in the mirror, never happy with our own reflection. Colleagues see it. We get passed over for job promotions and opportunities because we don’t have the self-confidence to show how fabulous we really are.
I think most of us, whether we are survivors of abuse or not, have some negative voices in our heads. Society in general doesn’t want us to feel too good about ourselves, because then we start wanting better lives for ourselves and others. Then things would start to change and there would be hope and compassion abounding in the world. We couldn’t have that now could we?
This is another thing in life that is a learning process. We didn’t get these negative messages over night and they won’t go away over night either. I can’t tell you how to find the key to stopping the voices, but I can tell you that I’m on your side. I ask you, I implore you, to try to stop. In the words of Old Turtle, “Stop. Please stop.” (If you don’t know who Old Turtle is, you need to. Find her. She’s amazing. I cheated. I’m giving you the link. 🙂 )
Here’s a sign to put on your mirror, in case you need a little jump start. Please print it, as many copies as you need. Mail them to your friends. Send them to your families. Post it on Facebook. Of course I want everyone to stop with the negative messages and bad self-talk, but you can at least cut back on them, even a little, I think you will be amazed at how much better you feel. You are worth it. We think you’re awesome. (And Jennifer and I are experts on awesomeness!)
I’d love to hear how you are working to stop the negative committee in your head. Be kind with yourself in the process! You are worth it!