Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Stress, anxiety and depression

 

Inner voiceIn part 1 of "The voices in our head", I talked not just about unwanted voices in our head (the worry voice), but also the wise voice that brings creative ideas and solutions to problems.

Nevertheless, both these voices are still spontaneous and intrusive. Even a creative voice in your head can be a pest if it wakes you up at 3am.

However there is another voice that can override all other voices and that is the voice of Mindful awareness. I'm going to call it 'Mind voice'.

Mental health professionals often refer to self-talk and by that, they mean talking to ourselves either in a bad or a good way, but again, much of the time in a negative way. Therapies like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy encourage us to change our self-talk for the better.

I prefer to think of the voice coming from our Mindful awareness, 'Mind voice', as volitional, that is an action of our own choosing; us choosing to talk to ourselves in a deliberate, positive, encouraging and/or rational way.

When we use our mind to observe or thoughts, feelings and physical state, we can not only observe but communicate from that perspective (the Me Perspective). Self-communication is a powerful tool and can be used to dispute irrational thoughts and self-regulate thoughts, emotions and actions.

Whether the voice in our head is a worry voice or a wise voice, we might not always choose to take notice – and here is where we can go one step higher to the ‘Mind voice' – our true or highest self – the self that observes absolutely everything in ourselves and in our environment, including worry and wise voices.

From that perspective we have more ability to choose whether or not we want to have the thought, idea, feeling etc. It is the ultimate voice and yet so many of us don't find it. We are not taught to look for it and in the past 'talking to yourself' either in private or out loud, has been seen as a sign of being mentally unstable.

Actually it can be entirely the opposite.

I would like to say at this point that constant, mindful awareness – observing everything you think, say, feel and do all the time – might not helpful unless you then take some action. You can think of a solution to the problem, implement an action or distraction, deliberately re-focus onto a positive action or thought, or simply 'let it go' (this in itself is an action). If you choose to watch it all without taking any action at all, you might want to have some personal instruction as otherwise it can be mentally disturbing to do absolutely nothing but watch everything (get a guru, go to a monastery or get a teacher).

Here's an example of using the 'Mind voice' when it's a worry.

Worry voice:
"You should go and see Mum today. If you don't she'll be upset and hate you"

Mind voice (kindly):
"Remember, it's our 'me' day today. Mum will understand and she certainly won't hate me. I'll give her a quick call instead"

Worry voice:
"But (but is always a warning sign) - if she doesn't understand she might be mad at me for a while and that'll be awful."

Mind voice (kindly):
"I can cope with her being mad at me for a while and again, she won't hate me. Let's take time off and let this go."

Listen for the emotional tone of the worry voice. All too often it's harsh, nagging and self-deprecating (as opposed to the wise voice which is usually warm, encouraging or enthusiastic).
Ignore the harsh tone of the worry voice. It's designed to make you take action right now to do what it sees as threatening (Mum will disapprove of me and that will make me feel very bad). Also, worry brain always sees threats disproportionately (e.g. Mum is a tiger about to jump on me). Whereas rationally, Mum might be grumpy if we don't go and see her but she's definitely not life threatening.

When you use a warm, encouraging tone in your self-communication, your survival brain is soothed and you have less chance of reacting and getting stressed.

Here's an example of wise voice intrusion:

Wise voice (at 3am):
"Here's a great idea for that project. You could do ... (this) ... or ... (that). That'd be good. Do it now!

Mind voice (kindly):
"Thanks but no thanks. Back to sleep now."

Wise voice:
"But you might forget this great idea. Don't wait. Write it down unless you forget it!"

Mind voice (kindly):
"It's such a great idea I'm sure I'll remember. Off you go now."

If it's an appropriate time (not 3am) and you appreciate the creative idea or the solution to the problem, you might decide to act on it right now. But if it's 3am and you want to go to sleep it might be better to send it away. And it's true – if it is such a great idea, you won't forget it if you can't act on it straight away (or you choose not to).

Practising Mindful awareness/self-observation is a great life skill and might take some time to develop, as will finding your ‘Mind voice' – but it is well worth persisting at. Eventually you might find you can deal pretty quickly and efficiently with thoughts, feelings or behaviours that you don't want, and concentrate on the ones you do want instead.

Again if your inner voices are very persistent, obsessive, distressing or manifesting as outer voices, please seek help from a mental health professional or your doctor.

Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14
Mensline Australia - 1300 78 99 78
Beyondblue - 1300 224 636
Suicideline Victoria - 1300 651 251
Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline - 1800 551 800
Griefline Community and Family Services - 1300 845 745

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