I’ve got news for you: that voice in your head that tells you you’re worthless, you’re a failure, if only you’d done things differently…it’s not really your voice.
The judgmental bully is called your Superego, a complication of voices–critical relatives, mean kids at school, a diet- and money-obsessed culture–who dominate your thoughts when triggered. Think of it as a fucked up Greek chorus (with all due respect to their function in a theatrical performance) who waits for the perfect time to chime in and say paralyzing things to you.
The trigger can be pants that won’t zip, the “perfect” mom at Starbucks, the bank overdraft, the kid who won’t listen to a word you say, the email from a client or boss indicating you presented an imperfect piece of work (the horrors!). Whatever it is, it gives rise to the bully’s powerful and convincing voice.
Take a Listen to MY Greek Chorus:
Here’s an example from yesterday. I saw a slim, fit, clearly cash-laden woman my age in line at Starbucks: my trigger. In my head, barely audible, I hear, “What did YOU do wrong, Corrie? You’ve got a master’s degree. You’re talented! You were always so well-loved growing up. You have no excuse to be a failure! You can’t keep the fucking crackers out of your mouth and the roll of flab off your waist! And where’s all that money you’re supposed to be making?”
Whoa. What kind of an a-hole says that kind of stuff? Oh yeah, that super-charged compilation of every critical, judgmental, you’re-not-enough person or thing (e.g. TV commercial) I’ve ever come in contact with, especially in my early days as a child who just wanted to feel safe and loved. For the record, I don’t think anyone ever talked to me like this, but the messages about what I’m “supposed to be” came through (and continue to come through) loud and clear.
I kinda slunk out of Starbucks with my cream cheese filled bagel balls feeling like even more of a glutton. Judgement upon judgement.
Who’s Listening, Anyway?
The part of you that hears this cacophony of bullshit–and believes it–is a smaller, vulnerable part of you (probably “you” as a child) who’s scared and all-too-willing to please that asshole bully by cowering in the corner. It hears this voice and makes you feel small, powerless, and maybe kind of sick to your stomach.
Where’s the adult voice in this scenario, the one that says, “Come on now, this is ridiculous! Cut the playground abuse!”
Ahh, I see…
It’s there. It’s YOU, the authentic and wise you, who actually wants to be accepted and loved, and who knows, deep down, you’re inherently worthy of it.
Here’s the thing: we can learn to DISENGAGE this bully voice by using this adult voice. When we recognize the bully , we can say “SHUT UP!” Or, we can say to that vulnerable side of ourselves, “Sweetie, tell me how you’re feeling. You’re wonderful, you haven’t done anything wrong, and you’re OK just as you are.”
Neither option is particularly comfortable for me in my current new-into-recovery state. But that’s why the pros say we need to practice disengaging the Superego and attending to the weaker side of ourselves who needs some adult TLC. Ultimately, we’ll be able to disarm the Greek chorus quicker (It’ll always be there…we’re human, after all!). We can learn to 1) hear the voices, and, 2) respond with more understanding and confidence using the voice of our TRUE self. Practice makes almost-perfect, right?
So where is this coming from today? Geneen Roth! Oh, she’s just wonderful. She has spent her career helping women make peace with food. Author of Women Food and God: An Unexpected Guide to Almost Everything, a book that’s helping me understand my soul-sucking compulsion to eat, Geneen offered a free call last night called “When You Stop Judging Yourself.” It made me cry. It felt so good to know that this self-judgment isn’t my fault and that there’s a way to calm the thoughts–and feelings–that have thwarted every single one of my efforts to take care of myself consistently, with love and compassion for the real, authentic me.
Geneen’s two recommendations for how to disengage the bully voice–what I’m coining the fucked up Greek chorus–are admittedly kind of difficult. If you feel like saying “NO” to a bully and/or treating yourself as you would a hurt child make you uncomfortable, that’s probably a good indication that you need to do the “work” required for healing.
Ugh. It would be easier to ignore all of this. But I can’t un-learn these insights. So I’m willing to start practicing. I don’t deserve to be bullied by the voices in my head–they don’t speak truths, even though they’re so convincing. But as long as they’re in charge, I’m going to continue feeling powerless and soothing myself (or beating myself up, alternately) with comfort foods. While this is “OK” every now and then, it truly is, it’s not effective daily self-care.
And you know what else? I’d rather have more enjoyable experiences at Starbucks. At those prices…I darn well should! 😉