Rewrite your story. Shut your negative inner voice up!
When I was young I had this vision of myself. I was not good enough. I was stupid. Others looked down on me. I wore the wrong clothes. I didn’t belong.
If you asked friends who’ve known me since childhood I’m sure they’d say the opposite. That I was confident, popular. I was outgoing and fun. But they didn’t hear what went on in my head.
Everything I said and did proved to me I was an idiot. At least that’s what my inner voice told me every minute of the day. It gave me a constant ear-bashing. ‘Why did you say that you fool!’ ‘You’re so embarrassing, why did you do that!’ None of it was nice. And it wouldn’t let up. Even hours later, I’d dissect events in my head.
This was my story. An internal story that only I knew. One that said I was no good. And nothing I said or did could live up to anything else in my head. I wasn’t even aware this narrative was there. But it was a story that informed my life and all that happened within it.
When I was young I was a ‘people pleaser’, morphing into who and what anyone wanted me to be. That’s why I was great at fitting in. My opinions were ones I thought others wanted to hear. They could change depending on who I was with and the circumstances. I didn’t want people to think I was stupid for any of my own.
I was afraid of confrontation. (I know, those who know me now would laugh out loud at this!). I found it hard to say no. Even if it meant accepting behaviour that was not good enough for me. That voice in my head told me to keep my head low, not to invite criticism, not to speak out. I’d change my behaviour to keep the peace at all times. Better than standing out and judged for it.
It’s not surprising that I ended up in a destructive relationship. Or blamed for it. Everything my ex said, even after he tried to kill me, was only what I told myself anyway. ‘You deserve it’. ‘You’re worthless’. ‘If only you’d done X, then the abuse wouldn’t have happened in the first place’. You’re to blame. You’re to blame. You’re to blame. My inner voice was like the cheerleader to his negative berations. Booming out loud in my head the same negative accusations he was shouting at me.
I didn’t know I had this unique story then. An internal, negative dialogue. I don’t think I could even hear it consciously. It was subliminal, below the surface. A constant presence I was so used to, I didn’t even notice it. But I felt the shame of its effect.
It was only when I found the courage to ask myself: ‘why am I in this abusive relationship?’ ‘Why am I staying when others would flee?’ that I learnt of its existence. But first I had to understand I had zero self-esteem and that was the root of it. When you have little self-worth you attract those who treat you as worthless.
Knowing this was the key that opened the floodgates. The one that led inside my head. Man, it was noisy in there! That voice! The one that bashed me with negative thoughts. It was relentless. It wouldn’t let up. ‘Give me a break!’ I thought.
I didn’t like this narrative. This story of who it presented me as. I had to tear it up. This wasn’t who I was at heart. Or the true me. But where had it come from? This needy version of myself? The one who held her head down in shame and felt worthless?
When we are children the seeds of our emotional wellbeing are sown. Do we feel accepted, loved, safe, supported, trusted and believed in? Understood and valued? Nurturing these are crucial to a child’s self-worth.
If our emotional needs are all met, then we grow up to have a healthy self-esteem as adults. We feel self-love, self-worth. We can set healthy boundaries of what is good or not for us and for our wellbeing.
If not fully met, then insecurity fills the gap. It manifests as a feeling there’s something missing inside us, that somehow we don’t belong. We fear connection, abandonment. We’re frightened of being vulnerable. We mistrust our gut instincts and ignore any warning bells of danger.
We may attract someone we convince ourselves can plug this hole inside, as I did. But they’re most likely someone just as needy as we. Who fear the same as we do. As soon as we start to feel a connection with them they push us away, before we ‘abandon them’. This confirms our worst fears. That we aren’t good enough. But it is a script, although a negative one, that’s familiar to us from childhood. Their baggage matches ours, which makes us feel comfortable.
When people are abusive towards us. A partner. Even a bully at work. It confirms what we feel inside. That we don’t measure up to others. We deserve what we get. And the voice in our head only agrees.
This doesn’t have to mean we’ve come from an abusive home or past. Mine was a happy, secure and safe home. It is just a case of whether or not all our emotional needs were met as a child.
But what if we can rewrite this internal dialogue? What if we we change our story? We can. I did. And this is how: We need to separate what we do, from who we are.
No-one is perfect. Everyone does stupid things. It’s how we react to them that is the difference. I had to learn to tell myself: ‘that was a stupid thing I did today’, but that doesn’t mean ‘I am stupid’.
I stayed with a man who was a danger to me. I had to accept that that was a bad choice. But it didn’t mean I deserved violence to happen to me. By absolving myself of blame, I was able to then ask myself. What can I learn from this? What better choices can I make next time?
Now, if I do something cringeworthy. It might even rank as one of my most embarrassing moments in life. I’ve learnt to let it go. What I do, or what I say – and believe me I can and say some stupid things with regularity – are not the sum of who I am. I can accept it was not the greatest thing to do or say. I can learn from it and move on.
That way, I can look at things I do as learning curves. I can turn negative into positive. I can improve as I go. We’re all a work in progress that way.
It’s a rule I can also apply to others: what they do or say is not the sum total of who they are. What they say or do may not be great either and it might be hurtful to me. But it’s not personal. I can accept it without judgement. Then choose to forgive them for it. Or walk away, if it’s behaviour not good enough for me or for my wellbeing.
I’ve learnt to stop being so hard on myself. I’ve shut that voice up inside or at least got it down to a barely perceptible level. Without that noise and in the stillness, I’m kind of liking the me I see now.
Originally published at www.beingunbeatable.com