May 14, 2016

You are Not the Voices Inside Your Head.

negative thoughts

In my experience, one of the most important aspects of becoming a deeply healthy person is uncovering and embracing what I call our “health shadows.”

Jung defined the shadow as the “dark side” of our psyches, invisible forces deep within our subconscious that affect us in ways that we often can’t explain.

In the context of health, our shadows are those unconscious, disowned, or suppressed that sabotage even our most sincere attempts to become healthy and create the changes we seek. We experience them when we repeat behavior that we know isn’t serving us, or that may even be doing us outright harm.

For many of us, these shadows take the form of unwholesome voices inside our heads. I have seen this play out in my own life and also with my clients and loved ones. Regardless of how “together” we seem on the outside, inside, the voices are incessant. Whether it is the fat on our thighs, the coffee that hides our exhaustion, our secret addiction to ice cream, the insomnia that plagues us at night, or our avoidance of exercise, the voices inside will always tell us that we ought to know better and do better.

One of the most powerful tools I’ve found for dealing with the shadow is the Voice Dialogue technique, created by clinical psychologists Hal and Sidra Stone, originators of the Psychology of Selves. Voice Dialogue is a therapeutic technique in which we get to play with the myriad of different perspectives within ourselves that we name as voices.

In their article, Voice Dialogue: Discovering Ourselves, they describe it as “dialogue with the family of selves that lives within each of us.” In my work with clients I will often weave elements of Voice Dialogue into our engagement as a way to reveal and uncover aspects of the shadows.

When we’re entrenched with our identification with certain voices in our heads, we see those voices as being “who we are.” The loud voices—like the voice of shame and the voice of self-judgment—become “me.” We believe that what those voices are saying is “truth.” In a sense, we cage ourselves into a very small and limited conception of who we are.

By using Voice Dialogue, we can loosen that identification and begin to discover the flexibility and capacity necessary to embody and understand different perspectives within ourselves. We can come to recognize that the inner voices that have caused us so much pain, voices that we’ve been identifying with, are actually only a few out of an infinitely wide spectrum of viewpoints inside of us.

Through consciously playing with these different voices in ourselves, we can begin to strengthen some of the softer voices that have been bullied into silence and submission, in some cases for a lifetime. We can invite these voices into conversation with each other.

While the Voice Dialogue technique is something that works best when guided by a skilled practitioner so that you have the outside reflection and witnessing that help to reveal the shadows, you can also explore it on your own.

Find a private, quiet space with your journal. You can explore the voices in a journal or speak them out loud. Both practices can be very powerful. Choose a voice—”the critic” for example—that you want to enter into dialogue with. Ask a question of your critic like, “How are you feeling?” or “What are your needs?” If you are doing this with a partner, he or she can ask the questions.

This is where you allow yourself to become that voice and respond from it. It can be helpful to make an obvious acknowledgment of some kind when you are shifting voices so that you can help your consciousness to fully embrace the different perspectives. Moving your body as you shift, walking to the other side of the room, swapping chairs, or changing the quality of your voice can help you to drop more fully into releasing your former perspective and embracing the new one.

Try to play around right now with this practice and see what happens. If you’re journaling, you may want to leave aside the questioning, and just allow stream-of-consciousness writing to flow out as that voice. You might get in touch with some of the different voices that live inside of you—perhaps a “shame” voice, the voice of “resistance,” the “perfectionist,” the “skeptic.” Or you might even get clearer and more specific and recognize the voice of your biological father or mother that has gotten trapped in your own head.

Ask the different voices questions to find out what their perspectives have to say. If you continue to explore, you will probably discover a validity and truth in each of the voices, even in the hardest ones to hear. There is no “right” and “wrong” here—just a multiplicity of perspectives. This is where the tender vulnerability comes in, and the necessity for gentle, loving care on this journey.

Once you begin to name some of the habitual voices inside you, to get a feel for their tone and unique personalities and opinions, then you can get playful and begin to invite in voices of your choosing to see what they have to say. I like to think of the practice of Voice Dialogue as inviting more voices to the table. The habitual ones are already gathered at the table, so you can invite more, less-dominant voices to join the conversation.

The voices might take the form of the nurturer, the wise grandmother, your loyal friend, or your inner rock star. These are the voices that have your back, that are focused on guiding you toward your own thriving. Sometimes the new voices you invite might be very quiet at first; perhaps they have never spoken before inside of you in a way that you could hear them. The key is to start aligning yourself more fully with those new, more loving and nourishing voices, while also not denying the other voices at the table.

By turning toward what we have not wanted to face, we free ourselves from prisons we didn’t even realize we were in. By revealing our fears, insecurities, and self-judgments, by embracing our shame, and by being completely honest with ourselves, we liberate ourselves. Even the kindest, most gentle, and loving voices can be deep in the shadows. Each time we invite other voices to the table, inviting in perspectives that have not been a part of our inner sense of self up to now, we free up more space for our true self to come through.





Author: Deborah Zucker

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Flickr/Dragan

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