Whose voice is your cult leader within?

Hi Friend,

If you read the newsletter each week I can assume you’re here because:

  1. you want to make major changes in your life

  2. as a clinician, you want to help others make major changes in their lives, or

  3. you want to understand your parent or partner so you can help them make changes in their lives (NB: good luck with convincing someone to change who doesn’t see the need…).

That’s fantastic. Having the desire fuelled by reasons to make significant changes is extremely important. We’ve also talked about assessing our readiness to change in previous newsletters.

Unfortunately, all of this can be derailed by one thing…

Our inner voice.

One of the most limiting and resistant parts of our selves is that voice that seems to originate from deep within that tells us what to do.

There’s usually no equivocation.

Our inner voice tends to see things in terms of black and white. We don’t question this voice, because it’s part of us, right? It pipes up in times of uncertainty and anxiety and always has an answer.

Most of us fail to analyse the answers our inner voice (inner critic/cult leader/dictator within/radio doom + gloom, whatever you want to call it) give us. We take the answers as reliable, honest, true.

It must be right because it popped into our heads while we considered our options. Our minds wouldn’t bring those answers up if they weren’t healthy and helpful, would they?

Yes they would…and they do.

Our inner critic is made up of many different voices, but the loudest and most convincing are our parent or primary caregiver’s words. From the time we’re born, we learn the ways of our world from our parents. I say ways of OUR world because we’re totally reliant on our caregivers for everything in our first 18 months to 2 years of life.

How they see the world and interact with it directly impacts us; parents/caregivers are our everything. We are hyper-attentive to their words, actions, facial expressions, body language…because without them we won’t survive. If we don’t know how to indicate our needs they won’t be met so we seek out ways to make sure our needs are heard loud and clear.

The big problem with this is that if our parents/caregivers are preoccupied, unavailable, rejecting, inconsistent, suffering from a mental or physical illness, abusive, being abused themselves, or any number of other circumstances that impacted their ability to give us the attention and attachment we needed to develop physically, emotionally, socially, we adapt to survive.

One of the ways that many children adapt is to please their parent/caregiver by agreeing with them and thinking like they do. This is where our inner voice gets most of its material.

Parents/caregivers might overtly drill particular ideas into our heads as children such as:

“Waste not want not”

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”

“People who are tidy are soul-destroyingly boring”

“Everything can be repurposed”

“Mess is creative”

Parents can also give us the impression, through their behaviours, that there are right and wrong ways of doing and being. The covert indoctrination. They may not say these things outright but we, as children, get the message. We might get the impression that, for example:

“Good people don’t waste”

“Throwing things away is the very last resort”

“Keep yourself to yourself, then you can’t get hurt”

“The world’s a scary place and people are out to take advantage”

“Possessions are better than people, they won’t leave or betray you”

You may think that because your parent/caregiver is dead they no longer feature as the cult leader. WRONG! Dead wrong. Parents, long passed, can still be dictating you behaviour.

In fact, once they’re dead we often idolise our parents and wish to remain loyal to their memory.

Dr Susan Forward in her book Toxic Parents: Overcoming their hurtful legacy and reclaiming your life - strongly recommends recognising whose voice we hear when we contemplate life altering decisions. She believes this is the key to change and moving on from what’s held us back in the past.

One of the most important things we can do is to pay attention to the voice in our heads, acknowledge it, and consider if the voice is saying anything useful for us as we are now.

In the past, agreeing with our parents was important for our safety. Now it may be unworkable for us. It may be what’s holding us back. In fact, now it might be significantly contributing to our poor mental health.

We need to decide if it’s actually our opinion or are we operating under our parent’s rules.

Perhaps you don’t hear your parent’s voice and you just do things just because that’s the way you’ve always done them. Unfortunately, without exploring the underlying fit of these behaviours with your values and goals, change is close to impossible.

Becoming mindful of the rules underlying how we do things, testing those rules and boundaries through experimentation, setting new ones that more closely align with where we want to go, can be liberating. Scary yes, but also incredibly freeing.

Journalling Prompts

  • What are the rules that underlie your saving habits?

  • What are the rules that underlie your acquiring habits?

  • Can you recognise where those rules originated?

  • Do you agree with these rules keeping your values and goals in mind?

  • What are the consequences if you continue to follow these rules?

  • Can you adjust these rules to fit your values and goals?

Really dig deep here think about if you truly believe these rules that your inner voice tells you are mandatory.

Think about the lives led by those who passed these rules down to you. Push yourself further if it feels OK.

  • How is your life in 2021 different?

  • Can you create new rules that align with your beliefs and values?

Working out what YOU truly want could change your perspective and your life.

Until next week :)

Jan <3

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