You’re Already the Voice Inside My Head

I’ve been hearing voices for a long time. Not in a schizoid kind of way, or even in an “I’m picking up Top 40 radio with my orthodontia” kind of way. The ones I can hear are not as friendly as Casey Kasem sounds. In fact, they’re downright mean.

I think (read: hope) even the most well-adjusted people face an inner critic from time-to-time. Even if you don’t hear a literal voice, you know what I mean when I talk about something nagging you deep in the back of your brain while you’re trying to accomplish something.

It’s like the meanest person you’ve ever met is standing directly behind your left shoulder, nitpicking every single thing you do. “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” your inner critic says. “I can’t believe you thought you could do this. YOU ARE RUINING EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD AND DECENT IN THIS WORLD RIGHT NOW, YOU BOOGER-EATING FUNGUS LICKER. YOU RUN LIKE A WATER BUFFALO!”

That cuts right to the bone.

That cuts right to the bone.

 

Besides spouting some very hurtful lies about my dietary preferences, my inner critic is really good at stopping me from doing things. “No one has ever been as bad at this as you,” my inner critic says. “You will never be any good.”

I’m gullible, so I think, Oh man. That’s true. I should probably stop before I maim or mutilate someone through utter incompetence. So I stop. Stopping means I can’t practice. Not practicing means I never improve, and that means the next time I try, it looks like the inner critic was right– I am really bad at it. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The second-worst kind of prophecy, as everyone knows.

The second-worst kind of prophecy!

Often, my inner critics sound like people I know, which makes it easy to blame them.

The Voices in My Head

1. Family members. Mentally, I “hear” my relatives most often. One family member in particular is disappointed in every thing I do and totally convinced of my incompetence as a human. An imaginary version of my grandma chimes in a lot, too, shocked at some of my actions. In real life, I’m usually the one shocked by my grandma.

2. People I know in real life. In my brain, mentors are constantly being let down by my inabilities. “I expected so much from you,” they say. “But here we are. It’s too late now.” My friends are really mean, too. “You’re not as funny as you think you are,” they tell me. “I feel like you’re trying really hard.” “Yeah? I feel like you guys are real poop heads sometimes,” I say. They just bury their poop heads in their poop hands.

3. People who don’t actually exist. Theoretical children I don’t even have often tell me how much better I could be. I also regularly imagine an entire army of easily offended people who are waiting to come after me with torches and pitchforks.

4. My cat. Right now, Winston Purrchill is on the other side of the room, completely absorbed by the world’s most fascinating bottle cap, but in my head he’s extremely judgmental and finds the rhetorical questions I ask him juvenile and inane.

Who's the most hypercritical kitty in the world? Is it Winston? Is it Winston?

Who’s the most hypercritical kitty in the world? Is it Winston? Is it Winston? Yes. It is.

With one or two exceptions (Winston), none of these people would ever say anything that cruel to me in real life. Unless I’m very much mistaken and everyone I know is secretly a monster with no sense of basic human decency, they wouldn’t even think it. In fact, I only know one person mean enough to say stuff like that to me — me.

I’ve started to notice that the inner critic is a terrible defense mechanism I whip out when I’m feeling lazy or scared.

Critical Conditions

My inner critic starts lashing out:

1. When I’m writing. I’ve gone weeks between blog posts because the critic in my head starts with things like, “You’re not creative. Good luck coming up with a topic.” When I do, it says, “‘How to Recognize Different Types of Trees from Quite a Long Ways Away’? That’s not an idea. That’s the name of a Monty Python episode, you hack.” If I do finally write a post, a sick part of my brain tells me it’s terrible: “It doesn’t even make sense. Five of these words are made up!” Even if I like what I wrote, the critic sees that as a failing. “This post is brutally honest or important to you in some way? NO ONE WILL LIKE IT.”

"P.S., No one gets your references."

“P.S., No one gets your references.”

2. When I’m speaking to unfamiliar people. Are you a person I don’t interact with regularly? Guess what? I second-guess every single thing I say or do during our conversation. I’m still thinking about it when I’ve gone home for the day. Years later, I’ll think of it late at night and cringe at the ceiling. It will haunt me until my death. But it was nice talking to you, too.

3. When I’m at work. While my inner critic has stopped me from hitting ‘send’ on a strongly worded email or two, it has also occasionally prevented me from voicing any opinion at all. “Who are you to boss anyone around?” it says. “You have virtually no experience. You were recently a fetus.”

I will say this for the inner critic: it makes me try harder. The next blog post will be better. The next conflict at work will be smoother.

I’m getting better at ignoring it. I used to flail around during small talk, paralyzed by the mental beating I was taking. Now I shush it and say any random thing that pops in my head. It’s not the best strategy, but it’s better than what I had.

There was nothing inside but dusty shelves and old wire. Oh, that and ancient screaming.

“Good morning! I found a dead cat under my shed!”

Every time I get those voices to shut up, I reward myself with a cookie.

All that junk food isn’t doing anything for my complexion, though. I might as well rub grease everywhere and ask people to call me Pizza Face. Shh!

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16 comments

  1. pulpfictionme

    hahaha this made my night. Even more so, the advertisement at the bottom was for miracle whip. I inserted you inner voice into the commercial “I shouldn’t be eating this.”

    Here is a quote you should keep by your desk, toilet, or where ever you write and need a good muse to kick out the voices.

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

  2. rarasaur

    If someone doesn’t get the Larch reference, that’s their own fault. ;) Let their inner critic deal with it and move on, :) Loved the post, but I’m sorry your inner critic (and possibly your cat) is so mean. Do you have an inner groupie who thinks you’re the most awesome and hilarious person on earth? If so, maybe let them duel it out every so often.

    Also, for what it’s worth, I think you’re pretty great. :)

  3. Idigina

    Number 1. The Larch.

    The Larch.

    Monty Python hilarity aside. All the sane people I know are their own worst critic. If they weren’t, they would be insane.

  4. herschelian

    According to Freud – the one who is always having a slip – that is your Superego perched to one side and having a go at you every time you do/think/say anything – a bit like Jiminy Cricket was with Pinocchio.
    My superego is a complete pain in the neck, honestly, you wouldn’t believe it, criticise, criticise, criticise, morning noon and night. Once I had identified where the ‘voices’ were coming from I decided I would have to take charge and tell SE to b*gger off and let me get on with things. And so I do, which has improved things no end – but has SE shut up? not a bit of it, there are times when I can hardly hear myself think for all SE’s nagging away. I think we may be in a struggle to the death. A stiff G&T sometimes keeps SE quiet, but I can’t be having that all the time, now can I?.

  5. aka gringita

    “I second-guess every single thing I say or do during our conversation. I’m still thinking about it when I’ve gone home for the day. Years later, I’ll think of it late at night and cringe at the ceiling. It will haunt me until my death. But it was nice talking to you, too.”

    OMG. I’m not the only one!

    Good luck exorcising those demons. Keep calling them the poop heads they are. “Liar Liar Pants On Fire” and (for new stuff) “I’m TRYING This And You’re Just Afraid I’ll Be More AWESOME At This Than You So Shush” occasionally works. (Actually I find a well-chosen Bible verse here and there usually puts me on a better track. Nothing like a little Truth to diminish the Lies.)

  6. theliteraryhorse

    I could have written this. If I wrote as well as you. And was funny. And brave. And watched a lot of Monty Python. Oh wait, I did get the Larch reference. (Take THAT inner critic.). I love rarasaur’s idea: the inner groupie. My inner critic declares, “Are you insane? An inner groupie?! Everyone will laugh at you if the groupie encourages you in the wrong direction. You have to stick with me!” (Obviously, Winston has been secretly communicating with my inner critic.) Still. A groupie. I’m going to look into getting one. Then I can sit back and let THEM duke it out so I can do useful and fun things like write, or have a conversation. With anyone.
    (Great post, in case that wasn’t clear!)

  7. emisformaker

    I find all I can do is try to be a bit better every day. Also, try to consider every day as a clean slate. What happened yesterday is over, and there’s nothing you can do to change it, so don’t bother worrying about it. I’m also working on letting go of the future, so the only moments in my control are the ones happening right now. Before I reach them, or after I pass through them, they cease to exist. Provided I am trying to be the best person possible in the moment, I am doing well. It’s overwhelmingly difficult sometimes, and I don’t always succeed – the important part is that I never stop trying.
    BTW, that larch is great, but have you seen the horse chestnut? It’s right outside the cheese shop, next to the pet store with the dead Norwegian Blue in the window, down the road from the Ministry of Silly Walks.

  8. wrumbold

    This is so true, We seem to talk ourselves out of all these good ideas (maybe stupid people do not have an inner critic, Have you seen You Tube?.)

    I also have an inner groupie though, it’s not a good thing, he leads me down the path of hubris and that’s just as bad.

  9. Little Miss Menopause

    “You were recently a fetus!” Best line ever. This is so well-written and so relatable! I just read a blog (Daily Prompt?) on how we should not leave links in comments, so feel free to delete this but I was thinking it could really help you because I have had a real change in my self-esteem after I wrote it. It’s short, too. And anyone can try it. http://thequotegal.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/the-write-way-to-die/
    What I found highly intriguing is how you identify “your voice” as different people. I never thought of it in that specific way, but yes! Thanks for sharing so candidly!
    Stephanie

  10. Cherylann Mollan

    Reading your article has finally helped me pinpoint where the voices I hear come from. I could relate with a lot of things you said and I’m glad you’ve learnt to silence this inner fiend. Hopefully, I will learn to too, someday. And, you’re a great writer with a truly funny, honest sense of humor!

  11. lauzlau

    Winston is really cute with that mark on his nose. Your post is great & witty. If my mind starts doing jumping jacks when I need to fall asleep, I repeat to myself “no words, no thoughts.” So, I’m telling the nasty ego I’m not chatting with it about anything – good or bad. One day, I asked myself the question, “hey, mind you’re suppose to be on my side – what the hell?” We can be smarter than the souped-up ego, ’cause it’s just meaner. It’s something you have to continue to do. It feels good to say to yourself, “I support you, I believe in you, & I love you.” Why not be your own biggest fan?

  12. Viktoria Michaelis

    My inner voices tell me which blog posts will raise the most comments and which will be too deep for anyone to read all the way through, and they are often way off target. Still, they are there, and I get a really smug feeling inside when they’re wrong which, I know, is weird since the inner voices are me too….

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