Your Inner Voice

Your Inner VoiceFrequently we don’t think we can listen to our inner voice because we confuse it with all the voices inside us that tell us we’re not doing enough. We imagine that the moment we listen to our inner voice it will tell us everything we’re doing wrong!

That is not our true inner voice. I call those “outside voices” because most of them originate from all of the expectations and judgments about how we “should” be doing that we’ve been hearing all of our lives. They’re “outside” of us because they don’t really feel like they come from within, from what we truly want or feel or need. Rather they talk at us, telling us how we “should” be, whether it’s thinner, happier, more successful, more organized, or whatever.

Sometimes when we’re most hurt, or most disappointed, or when truly painful things have happened to us, those outside voices can get very intense. We can get caught up in terrible self-judgment. If these sorts of critic attacks happen to you, the next time it does, see if you can gently turn away from all the self-criticism and turn your attention to what happened that brought it on. Chances are something occurred that hurt you, that you’re blaming yourself too much for. See if you can acknowledge and let yourself be with, for just a minute or two, what you truly feel, and what you want, from a place of self-compassion rather than self-blame.

Your inner voice is always gentle. It never attacks you. It is aware of all the good in you, even when you’re not. Bring your awareness away from how you haven’t lived up to some external standard or expectation and ask yourself instead, “What do I want for me? What do I feel and know to be true for me?” Then you will feel connected to yourself, in touch with your own direction, traveling on your own path.

An Attitude of Self Compassion

women's counseling and psychotherapy in frederick mdMany people think they need to be tougher on themselves. They look at all the ways they fail to live up to their own expectations and think they don’t deserve self-compassion, that self-compassion is synonymous with self-pity. There’s a tendency to think that the failure to improve is a result of “laziness” or  “weakness,” a failure of character.

If only we could yell at ourselves more effectively, we would do the things that we know would make our life better or stop doing the things that make our life worse. How could self compassion work? Being “all nice” to ourselves would just let us off the hook.

But the truth is, though it may seem counter-intuitive, self-compassion is often the vital ingredient before any lasting change can occur.

Self-compassion is a very active process, and it’s a real effort for most of us. It means accepting who we are, accepting the challenges we face and the feelings we have, and how difficult it can be to change. It means being kind to ourselves.

Have you ever had a teacher, coach or mentor who wanted to help you improve but accepted you just the way you are? Someone who didn’t make you feel bad for what you did wrong, but patiently helped you to do better?

If you ever had a person like that in your life, you know that after spending time with them, you felt better – calm, relaxed, creative, empowered, capable of improving at whatever you were struggling with.

But have you ever had a boss who demanded a lot but never offered support, and got angry whenever something wasn’t good enough? We think we should be able to “rise to the challenge” of that kind of situation, but studies show that while some people improve their performance in that environment, far more people respond by hiding their mistakes, working less creatively and productively, having more headaches and getting sick more often.

The same principles apply in your relationship to yourself. Chronically looking at all of your faults sets the stage for a stress reaction that leads to anxiety, fatigue, defensiveness and more lapses in judgment.

But listening to yourself with compassion, accepting feelings that you don’t think you should have, understanding the parts of you that resist change and controlling the impulse to criticize yourself set the stage for feeling calmer, more relaxed and more able to move forward.

But what do you do when you’re feeling so frustrated with yourself that you can’t be compassionate?  At those moments it’s important to realize that your self-critical side isn’t “bad.” It only wants the best for you. It’s just going about it the wrong way.

See if you can be kind both to the part of you that wants you to do better (and feels frustrated) and the part of you that you think has “failed.” Both parts need and deserve compassion.

The more you treat yourself kindly, the more you create the optimum physiological conditions for change. Paradoxically, “self-acceptance” and “desire for change” are not opposites. They’re complementary.

So treat yourself with kindness and compassion while holding close the change you desire.  Accept on faith that whenever you get stuck, there’s a perfectly understandable reason for it. You will not only nurture your self-esteem, you will grow steadily forward from your true inner voice.