“The voice that has the greatest influence in shaping your character and the degree of happiness in your life is the voice inside your head.”
This week I’d like to share an insight that emerged during a recent discussion with a close friend. He was in distress around some negative self beliefs that had developed as a result of years of parental abuse. He was commenting on how much those experiences and the messages he received from his parents colored his world view and every relationship in his life – resulting in a distorted and negative self-perception and feeling of isolation. At one point in our discussion, I was attempting to impress upon him the notion that although our parents impart their own ideas, values and judgments upon us when we are young, it is up to us to determine which of these values resonate with us and which need to be discarded and replaced. So, I said to him, “The voice that has the greatest influence in shaping your character and the degree of happiness in your life is the voice inside your head.”
In other words, we are the DJs for our own minds. We don’t have to keep playing those old disempowering and depressing tracks we were given early in life over and over again. We can choose thought patterns that serve us. Most people understand the profound impact that our primary caregivers (usually parents) have on how we turn out. Of course, there can be tremendous value in examining our childhood experiences in order to discover the underlying limiting beliefs that may be holding us back in life. But, consider the following. Think of the sheer volume of words that your parents have said to you over the course of your life so far. Now, think of how many words must have run through your own mind over the years in the form of “self-talk.” I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the volume of self-talk completely dwarfs that of “parent-talk” in your life – no matter how talkative and intrusive your parents may be.
So what are the thoughts in your head…what does your own self-talk look like? Is it “I’ll never be able to do this…my life sucks…I’m not good enough…nobody loves me”? Or, is it more like “I know that I can do it…I have a great life…I’m great just the way I am…I love to share myself with others.” If you’re like me, its a combination of of the two. But, I can honestly say that the positive is growing increasingly more prevalent, and a little further in this article I will share one of the practices that is helping make that a reality.
Sure, everyone has a story, and we all have our own childhood wounds. We’ve been dinged up and knocked around mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically. The messages we received as children, both positive and negative, are deeply embedded in our psyches and the corresponding emotions get buried in our bodies. But, there is a body of work out there that demonstrates that we actually develop negative self-judgments as a mechanism for self-preservation (If you are interested in learning more about this concept, read Cheri Huber’s book There is Nothing Wrong with You, Going Beyond Self Hate.) However, there comes a time when these negative beliefs no longer serve to protect us, and simply harm us.
How does self-talk create suffering in your life? How many of the thoughts that run through your mind are the direct result of inherited beliefs from your parents and interactions with siblings, teachers, friends and lovers? Are you interested in taking dominion over your mental space and replacing those old limiting beliefs with new ones that are in alignment with the person you want to be? If so, how far are you willing to go in order to reduce all the negative self-talk and replace those limiting beliefs that no longer serve you?
“Mirror work,” an idea I first learned about in the book You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay, is one of my favorite ways to break these destructive negative self-talk cycles. Mirror work is easy. Simply look at yourself in the mirror, look deeply into your eyes, and state a positive affirmation about yourself. The fundamental affirmation Louise Hay recommends is, “I love and approve of you exactly as you are.” I know it sounds kind of hokey, but it works! I can tell you from first hand experience that when I first began to examine the content of my thoughts, I was shocked by just how often I found myself criticizing and critiquing almost every waking thing I did (or failed to do). I suspect that if we all talked to others as harshly as we talk to ourselves inside our heads, that our social networks would devolve and our society would break down completely. At the very least, we would be friendless and our own parents would disown us :). On the other hand, think of how much more love we could give to each other and how much more peaceful and harmonious our world would be if we could simply and freely give continuous, unconditional, self-accepting love to ourselves.
Here is a little tip to get the most out of this exercise. Sometimes talking to myself in the mirror feels too mechanical, too superficial, and artificial – and I feel disconnected from myself and the world. I have to metaphorically “shake” myself. So I’ll literally speak out loud to my body and say, “JOE!!! WAKE UP!!! ARE YOU LISTENING??? THIS IS IMPORTANT. GET CONNECTED. HEAR WHAT I’M ABOUT TO SAY. Again, it sounds a little crazy, but it really works. The important part is to really connect with your HEART when doing this exercise.
So what do you need to hear from yourself? I invite you to take a moment tonight after you get ready for bed and tell yourself something that you need to hear. Be the parent to your own inner child – the parent you needed, the parent you wish you had. Even if you had fantastic parents, none are perfect. Know that you are worthy of your own love, and that it is vitally important to your mental, emotional, and physical health to start receiving it. Are you ready to recognize yourself as the most influential person in YOUR world?
All of this reminds me of a poem that my mother had taped to her refrigerator for many years. I hope it has as much of an impact on you as it has had upon me:
If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.
If a child lives with fear,
he learns to be apprehensive.
If a child lives with pity,
he learns to feel sorry for himself.
If a child lives with ridicule,
he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with jealousy,
he learns what envy is.
If a child lives with shame,
he learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with encouragement,
he learns to be confident.
If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with praise,
he learns to be appreciative.
If a child lives with acceptance,
he learns to love.
If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with recognition,
he learns that it is good to have a goal.
If a child lives with sharing,
he learns about generosity.
If a child lives with honesty and fairness,
he learns what truth and justice are.
If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him.
If a child lives with friendliness,
he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.
If you live with serenity,
your child will live with peace of mind.
With what is your child living?
By Dorothy Law Nolte
Your in love and self-acceptance,
Joe Curcio, L.Ac.