Voices in Our Heads

How we imagine criticism from others and carry those voices in our heads to keep our sanity alive.

“Voices in Our Heads
Voices in Our Heads
We carry them to our grave”

Often people judge us. They are ever willing to comment upon our appearance, performance, occupation, status, behavior, our decisions and some intrepid commentators even enter our minds to dictate our thought flow.

Who are these people who judge us? If we care to spare a thought to it, we’d realize they are not faceless and nameless bunch of strangers we often call society, but they are the very near and dear. Beginning with our parents, they include our sibling, our friends, spouses, children, families next door, colleagues in office, mates in classrooms, and now our friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks we frequent. In fact the closer a person is to us, more their opinion matters.

How often do we let our actions and decisions in our lives be influenced by how others perceive us? We like to think it isn’t as often as it actually is . Again, if we cared to notice we would be shocked to see how much we go out of our way to impress our judges and to conform to their standards. And boy do we hate ourselves for it! Some of us do the opposite and do everything possible to provoke and anger the judges of their world. And boy do they hate themselves for it!

But the greatest woe to us being social animals is how we carry the voices of these judges in our heads even in their physical absence and let those voices dictate our reactions and behavior. In fact, if we really observe, we are more influenced by the voices in our heads than actual situations of judgement and criticism from outside in our lives. We lose peace and joy with these voices running our lives from our heads. How are we to let go of these voices ? How can we shut those people from passing commentary and judgement on everything we do?

It begins with the stark realization that these people do not actually exist except when we are in direct contact with them! What it means is that their voices in our heads are not opinions of people but are distorted echoes of our own beliefs and programming. It is easier to understand this if we understand the kinds of voices we carry in our heads.

Voices of Guilt

Friend/Colleague: “Well, at least I take care of my parents! I didn’t abandon them in their old age!”

Parent or Spouse shaking their head in disapproval when we are tempted to drink more or spend money on shopping.

Guilt is a sticky residue that takes very long to wear off. In social structures, guilt and fear are greatest tools for control and they are used everywhere right from child rearing to politics in keeping vast populations in check. It is easy to find people who can be the judges of our guilt in our heads. In the beginning it is the parents, then we have friends, sibling, spouses, colleagues doing the jobs satisfactorily in our heads. Essentially they are our conscience.

Shame Reminders

Shame is a stronger counterpart of guilt. Religious and national shame and guilt are commonly programmed in early life. Shame about sexuality is a very strong programming that leads to suppression of physical joy and pleasure. Hence imaginary voices reminding us of our shame is one of the easiest to surface since suppressed emotions do not tend to stay suppressed for very long.

It is more common among those of us who have been rebellious against norms and morals in our early ages. It is also commonly prevalent among those who have been sexually abused/exploited.

Morality Checks

A studious brother/sister becomes a morality checker in the head of a cheating student.

A environment friendly colleague turns a morality checker for a luxury loving person.

Guilt in turn breeds severity. Eventually, guilt in our psyche turns us into moral policemen of sorts first with ourselves and then with our families and professional circles. We find convenient voices from our own family and circles to be moral reminders. These are played in our heads as imaginary situations where our moral laxity is being noticed by the more upright person. Sometimes we find also ourselves wondering how the other person would behave in a situation that we currently are in and that imaginary situation can influence our current decisions.

Put-Me-Downers

Parent/Teacher/Team Leader: “You could have done better!”

Neighbor/Old Classmate/Wealthy Uncle: “Do you know how much I earn in a year?”

How often we hear voices of our near and dear in our heads disparaging our accomplishments and efforts. Birthed by own low self-esteem and self worth, these voices seek to increase guilt and constantly make us feel worthless. No matter what our accomplishments or how proud we feel about them, these voices will quickly demolish the pride and the perspective.

Self Hatred Voices

Shame makes us hate ourselves. And since guilt and shame cannot be kept hidden for long, they gradually increase self-hatred, which in turn feeds the shame and guilt. A vicious cycle indeed! These voices are stronger and more malicious than Put-Me-Downer voices. They bring a barrage of shame, guilt, moral degradation, feelings of worthlessness all at once. It also breeds rage within.

The voices of people we employ in our heads to feed our feelings of self-hatred turn those people into real villains for us in our social lives. They become unforgivable and hateful for us. A real challenge to overcome!

Sometimes these voices are also faceless criticisms running in our heads. Eventually they wear the masks of someone we know. At times it is a random stranger we face in the streets. At times it is even a simple sound or smell. For instance the sound of running water is a guilt reminder for me. I cannot be peaceful until I find the source of the running water and turn it off.

By now its become clear that most of these voices stem from unresolved emotions and bad self-opinion we carry within. We simply put masks to those voices, blame people around us for the suffering we undergo and attempt to unsatisfactorily resolve the situation by reacting to or avoiding the people around us. In all honesty we know that isn’t the problem.

Another aspect that becomes clear to us is that we love the drama of arguing within our heads. Demonizing somebody other than us is the easiest way to keep the drama alive.

So how do we free ourselves from these debilitating self-criticisms?

Keeping our heads above the waters

Well the first step is to keep our heads above the waters. That is to be clear at all times that the voices we carry in our heads do not really belong to the persons we imagine them to be of but they are just projections of our own suppressed/undealt psyche. That way we do not drown in the drama of emotions.

The simplest way to deal with this is to look at the drama in our head when it is happening and asking ourselves if the voice that is running in the mind actually has a physical body then and there. Is the person actually present right now or am I simply arguing with her/him in my head? When the person is not present, it means that the criticism in the head is a mental project of my own thoughts no matter how true it seems to the character of the person I imagine the voice to be of. At times even such validation cannot keep us from the temptation to have drama in our heads. Especially when we are righteously angered which is most anger!

Facing our hidden selves

The second step is facing the hidden emotions and beliefs. We can never really be free of self-accusations until we learn to face the suppressed emotions and programs that are causing the accusations to fly in the first place.

Most of us are afraid of facing them. We assume that by bringing up the suppressed emotions we will bring back all the bad things that have happened to us in the past. Some of us even go to the extent of ‘rationalizing’ them away. That is one of the greatest sins of our times – using rationality to desensitize ourselves. Emotions cannot always be ‘rationalized away’, they just disappear into our subconscious to work within us below the radar of the conscious mind.

Facing the suppressed emotions does mean facing some of our greatest fears but also not at the same time. Just like we put masks and voices to our own unresolved emotions and conflicting beliefs, similarly we also have objectified our greatest fears. All fear is simply fear at the end. The object of fear is the mask we have created in order to keep our sanity alive. Facing our unresolved emotions does not mean we will be forced to face the objects of fear, but it means facing the fear itself.

And by facing, it simply means that – facing. Not trying to deal with it, not trying to work through it, not trying to be courageous. But simply sitting with it and watching it.

Letting our fears through

Unresolved emotions remain unresolved because we haven’t let them through. We haven’t let them go. Facing the emotions and fears means letting them go. How to do that? Ever heard a bell or a gong ring. It begins with a rising pitch, reaches a peak pitch, and begins to fade and finally it is gone. Letting emotions pass is very similar to listening to the ringing of a bell. We just have to watch them through. We do not have to do that all at once, we just have to begin. Can we not do that?

The greatest obstacle to watching our guilts, shame, and fears go is not the lack of ability to do so but our programmed beliefs and moral codes. Social, educational, economical, religious, political, spiritual and cultural morals, codes, beliefs, and systems that have been devised keep our humanity alive have today themselves have become roadblocks to their own goals. We are afraid that by letting our guilts and shame go, we would turn decadent and immoral. But it is, in truth, our repressed emotions that are leading us to violate our moral codes and beliefs. And letting go of guilt does not lead to lack of restraint. Hanging on to it does.

Similar false logic applies to our fears. If I let go of my greatest fear, then I will face my greatest fear. That is my fear of ghosts is what is keeping me from being tormented by ghosts. But the truth is if I let go of my greatest fear, then there is no greatest fear to face at all.

Can we keep away from such mind play? Can we really question our beliefs and codes? Not to break them or bypass them, but to let go of our prejudices against ourselves. We need a healthy relationship with ourselves over a healthy relationship with our beliefs and programs. Can we not do that?