Photo: Wellcome Images

Written by Heather Hymas

We all have that little inner voice that talks to us. Do you listen to yours? Is he or she a critic or a cheerleader? Mine is kind of an asshole.

If I wanted to sit down and analyze them I am sure that I’d find many reasons for this voice, but it doesn’t really matter why. What matters is what you do with that little voice in your head and how much power you chose to give to him or her.

I have always had this negative, mean, petty, and sometimes downright hurtful little voice in my head telling me lies. For the sake of discussion, let’s call her Sally. Sally is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. She is always looking for a reason to point out my flaws; she’s the glass half-empty girl.

For years, I listened to Sally. I gave her power. She told me things, like that I was a failure or that I had ruined my life. She was always telling me that I was fat, dumb, ugly, and/or unlovable. She always made fun of the way I talked, how I acted, and how I interacted with other people. She told me I couldn’t do certain things, that I should be afraid, and that I should feel guilt and shame. Sally convinced me that no matter what I did, it would never be enough. All the accomplishments in the world wouldn’t, or couldn’t, make up for my inherent flaws.

In my experience, there are two classic scenarios that will usually play out in this situation: the “I Don’t Give a Damn” scenario, or the “Pandering Perfectionist” scenario. I actually took a starring role in both productions.

The “I Don’t Give a Damn” scenario seems to be the easier, softer one. It’s when, like an angry teenager full of angst and resentment, you take the approach of “If I can’t have what I want or don’t think I deserve it, I will choose to be the exact opposite and despise what I wanted.” “I hate the establishment and everybody in it!” Because I don’t feel accepted or loved. I was the epitome of Judd Nelson in “The Breakfast Club.” The problem with this is that it takes a lot of time and effort to go against everyone and everything. It also not only gave Sally a voice but made her the director of my life-movie. Even though I still had the starring role, I didn’t get to make any of my own supporting cast decisions, and I had absolutely no defense against her brutal stage directions and unconstructive criticism.

It took me a long time to realize that I did have the power. I could be the director. I could choose the cast, and if I let people read the screenplay, I would be surprised by how many of them not only related to the story but actually loved the story and wanted to be a part of it.

Once I finally realized that I could be the director, that I could and did have some control over my movie, I moved into the “Pandering Perfectionist” mode. I decided that, if I was going to control things, they were going to be perfect. I would be the perfect student, the perfect wife, the perfect teacher, the perfect mom, the perfect everything.

The problem with this is . . . well . . . I am sure that you realize that no one and nothing is perfect. So, of course, perfection was unattainable, and it gave Sally an even bigger voice—just in a different way. I gave her the power to critique everything I did. She became my biggest fan and cheerleader, but in a militant sort of way. It afforded me lots of drive and ambition to accomplish goals, but I was still miserable. No matter what I did, it was never good enough. Sally was always there, barking orders and criticizing.

Sure, I went back to school, got my degree, landed my dream job, became a mother, moved into a great house, and became super-involved in the community, but Sally always had something negative to say. I always needed to do more, and I needed to do it better. I couldn’t win.

Sally was always looking outside of us, always comparing us to everybody else. And when you are always looking outside of yourself, everyone else always seems to be doing better than you. The other problem was that Sally thought I should be great at everything. It wasn’t good enough to be a loving, caring mother I also had to be a fantastic teacher, a creative artist, run the house like a bed and breakfast, stay in shape, and be beautiful, smart, funny, and enthusiastic at all times. Besides being impossible, it was exhausting. I am tired just talking about it. I could never relax, and I could never keep up.

It took me a long time to realize that I don’t have to be perfect or good at everything. I get to have my strengths and my weaknesses, my talents and my flaws, just like everybody else. I get to make mistakes, and they are not failures. I get to find my purpose and share my light with the world without feeling bad about the things I cannot do. I get to be amazing for who I am without comparing myself to anybody else. And the best part of doing that is that it gives everyone around me the opportunity and the right to be happy in their own skin. It gives me the ability to love people for who they are and be supportive in their successes. I couldn’t truly do that before, because Sally was always worried that, if you looked good, it made us look bad—that, somehow, if you were successful, it made us seem less so. When I could finally see my own worth, it gave me the ability to see yours.

So, how did I get here? How did I change this? I literally had to stand up and tell Sally to SHUT UP. I had to take control over that little voice in my head. I had to chose what I would allow her to say. I had to call her out and take back control. I had to change my expectations.

It required baby steps; this did not happen overnight. It is still a process and a journey. I am learning, growing, and changing, and I hope that I will always continue to do so. Today, Sally and I have an understanding. She gets to reside in my head, but she is not in charge. She has to be supportive, or she doesn’t have a voice. I had to teach her how to say nice things. I had to train her to be positive. I had to learn how to be my own best friend, cheerleader, and support system. It wasn’t easy, and Sally still gets sassy sometimes, but today I recognize when she is trying to take over production of the movie, and I gently remind her that she is just the supporting cast; I am the star!

We are all the stars in our own movies, and we all deserve the spotlight and an amazing supporting cast. So, if you are walking around with a critic or a drill sergeant in your head, like I used to, rip up that screenplay. Take over as the director, and teach that little voice that it is his or her purpose to be positive, to be loving, and most of all to see your light and let it shine.