The other day, a friend’s daughter was going through a rough time at work. She was dealing with a boss who had clearly confused professional responses with personal ones when it came to carrying out her role as a supervisor. The lack of emotional intelligence in her comments that seemed to “go for the jugular” left my friend’s daughter frustrated and teary.
As we discussed some options for confronting her supervisor’s behavior in a professional way, my friend’s daughter made a comment that hit me hard: “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t," she said. The sound of defeat thick in her voice.
And since “do or don’t” seemed equally damning, to error on the side of safety, she was leaning towards the “don’t.”
Recognizing the danger in playing this one safe, I rebutted, “Well then, if that’s true, I would encourage you to do the thing that allows you to walk away feeling like you respectfully and appropriately stood your ground. Say what you need to say.”
Go for the “DO”.
Why should this wounded person get to have so much power over my friend’s daughter? And what voices within this beautiful young soul were agreeing with this unhealthy boss, allowing the behavior to continue?
Afterwards, the whole thing got me thinking. How often do people who are emotionally unhealthy get placed in a position of authority that inadvertently allows them to take out their woundedness on others? How often do we allow a wounded person to diminish our value with their condemnation and complaints?
And how often is that wounded person living right inside our own head?
Let me share a real time story from my own experience with one of those internal voices, in the hopes it might help you identify them in your own life.
With all the “social distancing” we’re adhering to these days, I wanted to do something for the kiddos in my neighborhood who are stuck at home, and for their parents, begging for creative ways to keep their littles, middles and bigs entertained.
So, I decided I would paint rocks with cute pictures and fun sayings on them and make a little contest for the kiddos, offering e-gift cards in exchange for a texted photo of the rock and an email to which I could send the prize. It went so well, and the kids loved it so much, I decided to make a second round.
I took a break from painting to stretch my legs and get a couple things done around the house. I was feeling pretty good about my little project, excited to post it on our neighborhood's Facebook page: “Hey Guys! More rocks (and more prizes) are out there! Go get ‘em!”
But as I was loading the dishwasher, a little but mighty voice started chirping at me. “Hurry up! You’re taking too long. By the way, you should hurry up on those rocks too so you can get on to really important stuff.”
Now, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it's that whenever the word “should” is a part of the message I’m hearing in my head (or from some other actual person), there is imminent danger of a possible shame storm.
It is best that we never “should” on anyone. Including ourselves.
Often when an unhealthy voice threatens to assail me with a shame-provoking message, I combat it with something positive, distract myself with something constructive, or simply push through. Sometimes, on days when I’m really tired or my emotional margins are low, I make the mistake of arguing with the message. On those days, the exchange sounds more like the immature banter of schoolyard rivals, the childish "Am NOT!" verses the equally childish but condemning "Are TOO!"
I know better, yet I fall into the trap more than I like.
But more recently, I have been utilizing a tremendous tool to deal with those assailing messages. Curiosity.
And on that day at the dishwasher, when the voice I heard kept pushing me to “hurry up”, I leaned into the feeling as well as the message.
What is this about and where is it coming from?
Guess what I discovered.
The voice, its message and the shame it incited were ancient (at least in my life). They have been around as long as I can remember and originated from real people (as our negative messages most always do).
As a child, I heard messages like “hurry up” and “that’s not important” (read “You’re not important!”) from adults in my life who saw me as an inconvenience; something they couldn’t be bothered with. My interests and the pace at which I navigated tasks and life in general wasn’t to their liking. So, they would often correct through snide comments and prodding me to “get on with it." I learned to stay out of trouble meant to hurry up, and to not share my interests, hopes or dreams.
It makes sense that this is the root of what I experienced at the dishwasher and at other times in my life, given that psychologists believe these voices are residues of childhood experiences; automatic patterns of neural firing stored in our brains and dissociated (disconnected) from the actual memory of the event(s) they are trying to protect us from.
Consequently, I took on that voice as my own because listening to it protected me. It kept me safe, emotionally and physically. But as I grew into adulthood, the voice served no other purpose than to make me feel bad about myself. I felt that I was still an inconvenience and “should” work hard not to be a bother. But it also caused me to hide and isolate parts of myself. Which did not help to create true intimacy in relationships.
That day at the dishwasher, I realized the voice telling me to “hurry up” was actually the voice of a younger me within, wanting to keep “us” out of trouble. Wanting to keep us safe. I didn’t argue with it, I just simply said, “I see you. And I know what you’re trying to do. But it isn’t necessary anymore. I can keep us safe. I; we can take as much time as we need.”
And just like that, the voice left.
I shot up an arrow prayer; a quick “thank you God, for showing me that”, and went about my day.
In the days to come, I would hear the voice a few more times, and I would repeat the same process, driven by curiosity. I realize there is a chance it may never be completely silenced. But that’s ok. I know where it’s coming from and I know what to do with it.
Now, it’s just like the rest of me, working to be transformed into the best version of who God has created me to be.
How about you? What unhelpful “voices” speak to you, provoking shame, or hiding or uncertainty? Are they past or present or both? Are they preventing you from deeper levels of intimacy, while providing a dysfunctional version of protection?
What if you got curious about them, really curious, and decided to integrate them into the narrative you want to be most true for you?
Because you can do that, you know. My friend's daughter did. She recognized that her own internal voices were complicit. So rather than obey them or argue with them, she found the most effective action is to help them relinquish control; to help them see the safest, healthiest, happiest experiences in life occur when this present, healthy version of herself takes the lead.
And by the way, she's also on the hunt for a new, healthier work environment. Because just as she will no longer give any internal voices the power to rob her of the life she wants to live, she refuses to give the voice of anyone else that kind of power either.
If you would like to dig deeper on what it looks like to build a more integrated and healthy self-narrative, check out the following resources: The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson, MD; Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen and Your Faithful Brain Ignited! by Agovino & Birkemeier, LPCs. You can find these books and more at www.itsmyoutloudvoice.com/resources. If you found this message helpful or inspiring, why not share our message?! Come be a part of the MOLV Tribe. Grab a spot on our mailing list today so you never miss a resource at www.itsmyoutloudvoice.com.