A couple of weeks ago, I had a difficult conversation with a very close colleague. She said something I didn’t like, and I found myself saying, “I feel attacked”. A rather tense conversation followed, ending in an uneasy ‘OK … I get you … “. Unfinished. We headed into our meeting, and from then, home. Sitting in the car, my mind is chewing this over; what happened and also fretting over feeling hurt, hurting my colleague. Round and round I go.
A few months ago my mind may have continued like that, until other events crowded it out. But this time something different happened.
For some time I have been getting to know the different voices in my head. Differentiating between the key ‘characters’, having conversations with them, and asking them to help me. And I’m finding it really useful.
So, who are the main voices?
There’s the ‘narrator’, the voice that’s most dominant in my head. It’s the voice that tells me the kettle’s ready, that I need to brush my teeth, add milk to the shopping list. A neutral observer and helper.
Then there is my ‘child’ voice; higher pitched and expressive, this voice belongs to the vulnerable, emotional, and thin-skinned part of me. She is quick to laugh, quick to tears and if I’m upset – she can take over. She can move quickly, sometimes so quickly dominating my head, heart and what’s coming out of my mouth that I don’t see her coming!
And I now love this part of me. She has been told she’s bad, or at least unwelcome, so many times that no wonder she’s a bit out of control. In corporate life I was told many times, “Caroline – you need to develop a poker face.” But when she’s at ease, she helps me to connect emotionally with people, to intuitively understand them, and what’s important to them. She is my all-important vulnerability. She can courageously say when I have cocked up, and she leaks human frailty in a way that draws people to me.
Another voice is deeper, controlled, modulated – she’s old, the oldest part of me. She is my ‘wisest part’. And god is she good. When I’m stuck, and don’t know what to say, or can feel my emotional part ‘going off on one’, my narrator can sometimes kick in and say “quick … and what does your wisest part say?”. And I feel my emotions slightly checking out, disentangling themselves from my thinking processes. I feel calmer and from no-where a different, new voice offers something incredibly useful.
And that’s what happened in the car on the way home after my unfinished and difficult conversation with my colleague. My narrator asks, “So, what does your wisest voice think?” And from nowhere comes the phrase, “It’s a good thing you said what you said.” I’m shocked, and pause. Then think, she’s right. It felt difficult, feels difficult, there is more to be said between us … and it was important to be said.
So, what’s next for my voices? I really want to get to know my wisest voice. Every time she speaks, she adds a different, often surprising and incredibly useful perspective. I want her to be with me more, and more easily – like in the conversation with my colleague, rather than in the car on the way home! I want lively conversation between my child and my wisest voices.
And without naming these voices, where would I be? Swirling around, stuck in my head and heart. The names give me an important language for improving my self-awareness. And my self-awareness gives me choices about how I behave.
I was with a client recently, a guest on a 3-day retreat. She had come to release herself from limiting, strongly engrained ways of thinking and feeling about her own capability, enabling her to fully bring her purpose into the world. As part of our work, she re-remembered a part of herself as a very young child. This part is courageous, brave, funny, mischievous. In our work together she reconnected with this part of her, getting to know what she felt like and sounded like. WE talked about how she will bring this re-remembered part fully into her life, every day in service of her purpose. She talked about how she already had conversations with different parts of her, how easy and rewarding she founded it and now she wanted to do that with this previously forgotten and so important part of her.
I’m wondering what you’re thinking? Are you aware of different voices in your head? Do you know what role they play in your life? How conscious of them are you?
If you want to get to know your voices better, my hard-won learning tips would be:
1. Tune into the voices in your head … listen well!
2. Identify the main 2-3 voices and the role they play. Name them.
3. Ask, who do you need to bring in more and when?
4. Now … start the conversation and make them your best friends!
About the author:
Caroline Sharley, CPsychol, runs Your Somerset Retreat offering 3-day residential retreats for people wanting to leave the pressure of their everyday life behind, gain some peace and answer the bigger questions in their lives. Individually tailored to each guest, people leave soothed in their bodies, stronger in their hearts and clearer in their minds.