That Voice in your Head
In the last episode, Let them off the hook, I introduced the concept of clean pain and dirty pain. This distinction comes from ACT or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The founder, Steven Hayes, explains clean pain as the natural pain response you have as a direct result of the experience. For instance, the immediate pain you feel if you cut your finger or the pain you feel when you lose someone you love. Dirty pain comes from the story that the voice in your head tells you about the experience. It says things like: “I’m never going to love again,” or “I’ll be lonely forever,” or “How could they do this to me,” or “There must be something wrong with me.”
The Buddha made the distinction between pain and suffering, saying pain is inevitable, suffering is a choice.
And most people don’t realize they have a choice.
The dirty pain keeps you stuck in negative patterns. Think about it. From the outside, you can’t understand why your friend would stay in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship. If they were just dealing with the clean pain, the answer would be clear. Right? That hurts, so I’m leaving because I’m not going to stick around for more of that pain, but they stay…. and you think, “why are they staying?” It doesn’t make sense. Dirty pain.
So here is a lighter example to help you understand.
You get fired from your job. That hurts. Whenever something gets taken away or you lose something, it hurts. But what can hurt worse is what your mind then makes the firing mean about you: “They don’t value me,” “I’m a loser,” “What are people going to think?” “What if I can’t find another job?” “What’s wrong with me?” “I’m not good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough. Dirty pain. And the dirty pain makes you question what’s possible for you. And the result: low self-esteem.
And low self-esteem can keep you trapped in a relationship or a job situation that is not serving you. You settle for your situation because the fear is that if you lose what you have, you won’t be able to find something better.
Now, a part of why I want to talk about this is because I want you to know you are not alone!!! We all have that same voice in the head that says the same things! It’s not personal! And even though it sounds like you, and it even poses as you, but it’s not you! It’s actually not even about you. That voice is just written into the programming of your brain. And the thoughts that you react to the strongest are the ones you will tend hear the most just because those are the ones that you are responding to. It can be a vicious cycle.
That voice is actually a part of the ancestral brain that is just trying to keep you safe. It’s trying to protect you from the lions and tigers and bears out there!!! The thing is…we don’t have to worry about that anymore because we are now civilized people and sad as it is, the lions and tigers (at least in this country) are all in cages. And you’re not going to run into a bear unless you are out camping in bear territory. But there is a part of your ancestral brain that doesn’t realize that.
So it’s just trying to keep you safe. It does this by trying to convince you to remain in your cave where life is familiar and there aren’t any predators. But familiar does not always translate as healthy or even safe. I mean think of the example of the friend who keeps going back to the abusive relationship…that is definitely not healthy and maybe even not safe…but it is familiar.
Are you with me so far?
I give you these extreme examples, but the same actions are at play with any change you are trying to make in your life! Losing weight, exercising, finding a new career, going after your dream, doing anything at all that is new or different than what you are familiar with will trigger the “voice in the head.”
I will give you another example from a client of mine. We will call her Jane. One thing to know about Jane is that she is incredibly creative. Everyone who would meet her could see that right away, but she couldn’t see it. The voices in her head were too loud. For years she suffered with depression. She would stay in bed for days at a time with no motivation…. For anything at all.
Talking with her, it became clear that her creative process was being stopped by the voice in her head. The voice was saying things like: “Those aren’t good ideas,” “Oh Jane, don’t kid yourself. You don’t have what it takes,” “Jane, you are a phony. You could never make it on your own.” And on and on. So she wouldn’t even put her ideas on paper. The voice would go on: “You’re too old to do anything now, it’s too late for you,” “Why bother.”
But once Jane was able to separate herself from that abusive voice, there has been no stopping her. She has been soaring ever since. She literally ran with the first idea that came and launched her own business in less than a month. And the response to her business has been overwhelming right out of the gate. Now, she laughs when she hears that voice, because she understands it’s just trying to keep her safe from the lions.
So here is what I would love for you to know about the voice in your head…it’s not you, it’s not personal, it’s not even unique. The voice is not kind, and it’s definitely not helpful. You can learn to laugh at the voice. As soon as I hear that voice, I start telling myself positive things instead, and it just gets quiet.
Years ago, a spiritual coach said to me, “Just because you have a thought, doesn’t mean you have to believe it.”
Because here is the thing, whatever you turn your attention toward, you give power to. So it’s up to you to stop giving that voice all the power. Take your power back. Because what you are going to find is that underneath that loud judging, self-critical voice is the truth of who you are, waiting to be unleashed. And the world can hardly wait to finally get to meet you!
If you are looking to get unstuck so you can get on with it already, come visit me at thelifecoachingspot.com and schedule a call. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing you on fire.
By the way, I have a monthly drawing for a free 45-minute coaching session with me. All you have to do is fill out this short survey here that offers me blogpost/podcast ideas that are relevant for you! All answers are confidential.