Monday, January 26, 2015

Who Owns the Voice in Your Head?

When I was in the fifth grade, my parents walked across the street to meet my teacher for a parent-teacher conference.
Of all the teachers I’ve had from kindergarten through law school, Mr. Clinton gets the “World’s Best Teacher“ award hands down. As a model student, I was hardworking, intelligent and got good grades. I’ve had many excellent teachers, but what made Mr. Clinton special was what he gave me that my father never did.
He genuinely appreciated me as an individual and let me know it.
As I watched my parents make the short walk to my grammar school, I was certain they would return with a glowing report of which we could all be proud.
No such luck.
Instead, my father harangued me for the next hour all because Mr. Clinton, who had only wonderful things to say about me, also said:
“Our little Debbie has discovered boys.”
I don’t remember any congratulations for my stellar accomplishments as a fifth grade student. There was no recognition of the obvious affection my teacher had for me. There was only criticism and dire warnings should I veer from model student to boy-crazy dropout.

I was ten years old and that was the dawn, as best as I can remember it, of the voice in my head that heckles, “You are not enough.”

Now I ask you, who do you think owns the voice in my head?
It seems obvious now, but it wasn’t always. Forty years later, when I was working through cancer with a therapist, she made the connection when I mentioned regretting something I had not done. To her, my hesitance made perfect sense given that I had been conditioned to feel, “Why bother if it’s never enough anyway.”
Over the years, the voice in my head became a part of me, adopted and given my name and my voice, indistinguishable from my true self and certainly from my father. Its truth settled into my soul, because what you learn from pain sticks with you.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Silencing a broken record from the past and revealing your true inner voice takes awareness.

What’s the story behind the voice in your head? Oftentimes, the voice in your head traces back to experiences from your past. It might be uncomfortable, but tracing the voice back to a particular time or incidence brings awareness and helps separate your true inner voice from lies you’ve been taught.
Listen to and question what you tell yourself. Do you hear a faint echo of another’s voice coming at you from somewhere else in time? Is the voice loving or is it critical? Do you feel inspired by the voice, or limited and small? Is the voice in your head serving you or holding you back?
Take inventory. As my therapist pointed out during our conversation, I’ve actually accomplished a lot in spite of my nagging voice. I was enough to put myself through college and law school, get and stay married, have two children despite years of infertility and miscarriages, and get through cancer. Taking stock refutes the lies told by the voice in my head and puts it in its place.
Practice compassion. If a good friend needed your support, would you talk to him or her the way the voice in your head talks to you? Are you able to comfort and nurture yourself when you need it, or do you beat yourself up? We are all comprised of energy and light. If your inner voice is mean to you, it’s not originating from you but from a place outside of you.
Of course, sometimes even your true inner voice has difficult truths to deliver. With awareness and compassion, you can take that advice and better yourself. But, if the voice in your head is just mindlessly repeating an old story someone else made up about you long ago, then someone other than you owns that voice.

Image courtesy of John Haslam.
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Monday, January 12, 2015

How to Ditch Fear & Get What You Need

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.” Mick Jagger
I gave him the full mama bear hug and kissed the side of his head before sending him off with the usual parting words of a mother, “Have fun and be good.”
Only he wasn’t my child.
How did I know he needed mothering at that moment? Simple. He asked.
There were at least thirty of us at a neighbor’s house observing the pre-Junior Prom, picture-taking ritual. My son’s friend was there alone, his mother unable to attend. When it came time to leave for the prom, parents sent their children off with huge smiles, kisses and hugs.
As I released my hold on my son and sent him over to his father, his friend looked at me, extended his arms and said, ““My mother isn’t here and I need a hug too.”
As I hugged my son’s friend (for longer than I thought he would let me) it struck me that I had just witnessed this seventeen year old boy put the formula for getting what you need into action:

Awareness + Permission + Action = You Get What You Need

  1. Awareness: You can’t get what you need if you don’t know what you need. Are you as aware of your emotional need for affection, validation, understanding and support (just to name a few) as you are of your physical needs? If not, is it because you don’t think you’ll get them met anyway? If you want to have any chance of getting your needs met, you have to own them. No one else is going to get real about your needs until you do.
  2. Permission: Once you’re aware of your needs, do your best not to judge them. Whatever you need is valid and has merit. Viewing our needs through the prism of judgment causes us to shame ourselves into silence and inaction. Had my son’s friend thought he was being silly or juvenile, he never would have asked me for a hug before he went off to his first prom.
  3. Action: You know what you need and you know your needs have merit – now take action! Be brave and ask for what you need. You can be subtle or take the direct approach like my son’s friend, but you’re not going to get anything until you come out and ask for it.
Most of us let fear stop us from working the formula to get what we need. We’re afraid we’ll be judged, uncomfortable with vulnerability, or we’ve been rejected too many times before. Plus, fear keeps us playing small, believing we’re incapable of finding creative solutions to getting what we need.
The only way to ditch fear is to acknowledge it and then promptly ignore it.

When I was in the midst of cancer treatment, I was overwhelmed by daily responsibilities. Afraid to acknowledge I needed help, I soldiered on until it got to be too much. Finally, I talked with my oncology therapist who suggested, among other things, that I simply ask my husband to help me with the grocery shopping on the weekends, rather than continue to do it myself during the week.

When I heard her suggestion it was like a cloud lifted. Why did I think I had to do it all myself? And, why had I forgotten that we used to do the grocery shopping together every weekend before we had children, simply because we wanted to spend the entire weekend together?
Of course, my husband readily agreed to shop with me on the weekends and we’ve been doing it together ever since. I often joke with him that our big date of the week is going to Whole Foods on Saturday mornings.
Finding the courage to ask for what I needed reminded me that most people, and certainly my husband, respond generously. And here’s the kicker – at the moment the openness it takes to ask for what you need comes together with that generosity, a beautiful bubble of abundance and gratitude is created.
Do you struggle with getting what you need? Have you had the honor of showing up for someone who needed something from you?
I’m going to practice what I preach and ask you to join the conversation in the comments below. I answer every comment and would also love to see you share this post on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Thank you!!

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Image courtesy of Jeremy Brooks