We all inhabit an inner world where we are on the most intimate terms with ourselves. In this world we experience our inner discourse, coloured by our thoughts and ideas. Here our inner voices vie for our attention, one may be harshly critical of our actions, thoughts and ideas, or maybe there is a small, frightened voice that is prone to following what the critical voice may be telling it to do or feel.
Our critical self is developed usually during times of distress where we are highly susceptible as children to the views of our care givers and significant people or events in our lives. If we have felt threatened then we shape our view of our world based on these historic experiences, with the residue residing deep within us. An inner voice can be born to protect us after moments that frighten us, that cautions or reprimands us when there is a chance these experiences could be repeated. Like a recording on loop it plays out sometimes for our whole lives, despite the potential threat having ceased long ago.
Pretending or ignoring these voices is like trying to deny our existence, we may feel that by acknowledging this inner world is shameful, that we may be judged by our thoughts or ideas as strange or unacceptable. Over many years of sitting with others in groups, when an inner experience is revealed I've always heard others sharing similar experiences, suddenly we feel less alone in our experience and more part of a larger experience of being human. When we can accept and value our experience of our inner world as being valid and a direct reflection of our response to our environment, we we bring ourselves more into the world. Sharing this experience creates a fertile foundation for building trust, and relationships that are real and honest.
I've found through direct dialogue with our inner critic we give a voice to part of ourselves that has been wanting to be heard. This dialogue seeks to understand what is the message is behind the harsh berating tone. More often than not this is the voice of part of ourselves that is hurt, that has taken on a parental role to protect us from harm and it has dominated our inner landscape. Giving it a space to be heard and validated will usually quieten this voice. When we can quieten down our dominant voices a deeper and wiser part of ourselves can rise and be heard. This is a deeper ancient presence, that imbues wisdom and insight. When we can access this part of ourselves we have a greater capacity to orientate ourselves in the world and declare what we need and respond authentically to those around us. We are less prone to be critical and harsh towards ourselves and those around us.
Our relationship with the external world is a reflection of our inner world, and conversely how we speak to ourselves is a reflection of how we let others speak to us. When we are highly critical of our actions or thoughts, when they don't measure up to a belief about ourselves, we negate the voice of our authentic self. Somewhere along the way we swallowed a narrative that we are not OK., unless we behave in a manner that is OK for someone else. This narrative is not who we are, it is a storyline fed to us from someone else, or an experience where we needed to adapt to circumstances beyond our control. This narrative has many guises but usually it involves the words "should", "must", " have to", or "ought to". The more we ingest these foreign beliefs or attitudes, the less space is available within us to reflect what truly is right for us. It sets up an inner conflict between the parts of ourselves that is aligned with our authentic self and this critical voice.
When we can get in touch with the inner voice that is gentle and loving, we are closer to a narrative that is life affirming. By hearing our authentic voice we are able to recognise foreign narratives that come from outside ourselves. By acknowledging and giving voice to our inner critic, also gives us a chance to witness and seek to understand what this voice is attempting to tell us. Usually the critic is there to protect us from some form of perceived annihilation or shame. However left to direct us based on often old and outmoded protective measures we are contained, rather then allowed to fully evolve.
Discovering our authentic voice is like meeting a new friend that is learning to have a voice in the world. This voice can get drowned out by our familiar critical voice, but the more we engage with it the more permanent a presence it becomes in our lives. When others views that are incongruent with our authentic self, simple statements such as 'that doesn't fit for me' declares to the world that we honour what feels right for us, and that we are the agents of our own destiny.
Richard Prince is a Sydney based Gestalt Psychotherapist in private practice. He works with clients that are interested in developing their inner wisdom, to create a life of meaning, purpose, and fulfilling relationships. He has trained in the United States and in Australia, completing a degree in Architecture, and holds Masters Degrees in Social Ecology and Gestalt Psychotherapy. He balances his therapy practice with life in the professional business world as a creative practitioner, as a father, a husband, and as a full time human being.