4 ways to change your internal voices.
Parents have a tough job—raising children even though they may not have had good role-models to show them how to do it right.
Life is full of pressures; parents often juggle work obligations, financial commitments, health concerns, and extended family issues, in addition to caring for their children. With all of the stress, and the lack of experience and guidance, it’s easy to see why many struggle to give their children unconditional love.
Parents may be disappointed with their lot in life and want better for their kids, so they push and push for success. They might feel as though life has let them down and, in their sorrow, take their sadness out on their children. A parent can be stressed and exhausted, and lack the emotional resources to deal with a child who is not cooperating.
Beverly D. Flaxington is the author of 30 Days to Understanding Other People: A Daily Approach to Improving Your Relationships and Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior, which won the gold award from Readers Favorite for best new book on relationships. Her book, based upon her trademarked change management and goal achievement model, is Make the Shift:
Editor: Saad Shaheed
These conditions can result in a number of things—most significantly, parents who sometimes say things that are not nice to their kids:
- “You’ll never amount to anything.”
- “You are just like your father/mother/grandmother/stepdad.”
- “You are getting fat.”
- “You are too thin.”
- “You’re not very smart.”
- “I wish I never had you.”
The list can goes on and on. Anyone reading this who is a parent knows that saying such things doesn’t mean you love your child less, but words can hurt. Kids are very impressionable and take things very literally, especially when they hear them over and over again.
Those kids grow up to be adults who often play the same tapes inside their head. You may wonder why you are hesitant to try something new, lack confidence in certain situations, or struggle with weight or stress. It’s not all your parents’ fault, but the voices you heard growing up certainly contribute to the voices you may play in your head today.
Your parents probably did the best they could do with what they had; most do. But those lingering voices and emotions can drag you down if you don’t become aware of them and work to change them. Start by taking a look at what you tell yourself about yourself, your life, and your circumstances. Do any of the messages you repeat to yourself remind you of something your mom, dad, foster parent, or grandparents might have said to you? While not a replacement for therapy, in situations where verbal abuse was extreme or where parents weren't always supportive or encouraging, you can take steps to modify those voices and become your own positive, unconditional parent.
As a first step, recognize that you have voices in your head that talk to you and tell you what’s right or wrong with you and your life. Most people are unaware that they are in conversation with themselves. In fact, in many cases you may be talking to or using messages from someone who is long dead. The voices don’t need life—they just talk and talk and talk.
Once you recognize and connect the voices to some of the messages you have accumulated over the years, take these steps to start to make your shift:
1. Write down what you say to yourself.
It’s helpful to get the voices out on paper and review what you're telling yourself. You might be shocked that you say things to yourself that you wouldn’t dream of saying to anyone else, even your worst enemy. The practice of putting the messages on paper makes it real, and can be a wake-up call to see just how harsh you are to yourself.
2. Review the messages objectively.
Are you really “unlovable” or “a complete failure” or “unable to do anything right”? When you ruminate, you can tend to be absolute—all, never, nothing, etc. Remind yourself that no one is all anything: People vary in who they are and what they do.
3. Revise the messages to acknowledge your current beliefs, but lay the groundwork for better internal conversations.
It goes something like this: “Somehow I developed a mistaken belief that I will never succeed. I can succeed by taking different steps. The first step I will take this week is…(fill in)." Or, “I somehow agreed with things said to me as a child that I was unworthy. No one is completely unworthy. I have worth and I will take time now to write out the things I have done in my life that are worthwhile.” You can then write down a step, or make a list of even the smallest things that are more positive.
4. Keep on hand a song, poem, prayer, mantra, or other statement that helps you stay positive.
Once you recognize the voices in your own self-talk, shift to something more positive by replacing those voices with your prepared mantra, song, poem, etc., and then stay positive and away from those negative voices. Have a statement you can repeat to yourself that keeps you focused on the positive. Negative voices that come from messages you heard in childhood have had a lifetime to take hold and turn into the sort of self-talk that brings you down. It won’t be easy to shift these messages to something more positive, so you must commit to changing them, and to practicing positive self-talk as often as possible. The payoff is that you can release yourself from messages that probably never “fit” you and certainly don’t today. Try shifting those internal recordings to find greater peace and contentment.