Evicting the Obnoxious Roommate in Your Head

Don’t let your constant critic filibuster your dreams.

Even our worst enemies don’t talk about us the way we talk to ourselves. I call this voice the obnoxious roommate living in our head. It feeds on putting us down and strengthening our insecurities and doubts. I wish someone would invent a tape recorder that we could attach to our brains to record everything we tell ourselves. We would realize how important it is to stop this negative self- talk. It means pushing back against our obnoxious roommate with a dose of wisdom. My personal obnoxious roommate is incredibly sardonic. Once when I was on Stephen Colbert’s show, I told Stephen that my obnoxious roommate sounded exactly like him! “I had to find a place to crash,” he replied.

I have spent many years trying to evict my obnoxious roommate and have now managed to relegate her to only occasional guest appearances in my head. What makes our liberation from these voices harder is that so much of the news and information directed at women these days seems determined to reinforce our obnoxious roommates and make us feel that our lives are somehow lacking. We are constantly made to feel that we should be prettier, thinner, sexier, more successful, make more money, be better moms, better wives, better lovers, et cetera. Though often wrapped in a “You go, girl!” message, the subtext is clear: We should feel bad because we have fallen short in so many ways from some imagined ideal  —  we have tummies, not abs; we are undesirable because we don’t always feel like sex kittens (or because we do); we are incompetent because we don’t have a color- coded filing system for our recipes or papers; we are not trying hard enough because we are not a senior vice president or on a corporate board or in a corner office. Even the very existence of the phrase “having it all,” no matter how it’s debated, is, in effect, implying that we’re somehow not measuring up.

Educating our obnoxious roommate requires redefining success and what it means to live a life that matters, which will be different for each of us, according to our own values and goals (and not those imposed upon us by society).

Humor helps in dealing with that constant inner critic. “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly,” my mother used to tell my sister and me, quoting G. K. Chesterton. What also worked was sending myself a consistent and coherent alternative message. Since my roommate fed on my fears and negative fantasies, the message that resonated with me the most was the message with which John Roger ends all his seminars: “The blessings already are.” Or as Julian of Norwich, the fifteenth- century English mystic, put it, “And all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Or as Sophocles’ Oedipus cried out, “Despite so many ordeals, my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well.” I keep repeating it to myself until I am bathed in this calm and reassuring message  —  which has the added advantage of being true. So find your own message. Don’t let your constant critic filibuster your dreams.

Excerpt from Thrive pp. 155–157

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