“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission.” – Brené Brown
Even on the brightest of days not lurking too far in the shadows are the monsters in our head. They whisper things that make us second guess ourselves by cutting us down, weighing in a heavy critique, confirming where we’re too much or not enough, and a cacophony of other things no one likes to hear. Though these internal mutterings might sound ludicrous against the backdrop of the reality of our lives and the inherent goodness of who we are, some part of us gets convinced:
Maybe they are right.
Some clients call this voice the ‘peanut gallery,’ or their ‘gremlins,’ or the ‘mean voice.’ One client I have calls hers the ‘shitty committee.’ We’ve all got one: it’s the place where the opinionated voices in our head loudly heckle us as we go through our days. While some voices are more feral than others, they often confirm our worst fears about ourselves. If we listen to them, we spiral in an unpleasant emotional domino effect.
When these voices lob their loud critiques at us, it’s hard for us to just … be who we are. Our job as humans is to help these voices find their rightful place (and volume) so that we are free and unfettered to be who we are, shamelessly.
These monsters in our head tell us what we deserve and what we don’t, and they are behind much of the ‘shoulding’ we do to ourselves. I hear this loudly in clients who, out of the shame of falling out of line according to their family, they choose to live a life according to what is acceptable in order to belong. That might be choosing a Private Equity career over a more creative life, for example, even though that choice limits their creative flow entirely until it can’t be stopped and wants to break the banks of the ill-fitting world of PE. (You can swap PE here for any role that feels like it ‘should’ feel good, but instead leaves you burnt out and/or longing for … your life.)
As songwriter Josh Ritter sings in Monster Ballads:
Out on the desert now and feeling lost
The bonnet wears a wire albatross
Monster ballads and the stations of the cross
Sighing just a little bit
Sighing just a little bit
Ones and zeroes bleeding mesa noise
And when you’re empty there’s so much space for them
You turn it off but then a still small voice
Comes in blazing from some vast horizon
Making the shift from the life we’ve chosen because of those voices in our heads into the life that is ours to live is a tough one. It is, as psychologist and author Gay Hendricks would say, a big leap. And the biggest part of that leap is the decision to listen to a voice other than the monsters in our head. We learn to listen for and trust the still small voice and choose our lives from that place. From there, we can be who we are (more of the time).
Learning to trust that it’s safe to be ourselves is a practice of affirming for ourselves what we know to be true, what we feel, where we are in space, where we are in our body, what we can sense from our surroundings. Finding this place of belonging in ourselves, we step out into the world more secure about our place in it. From here, the ballads from the monsters in our heads aren’t loud and burdensome.
There are other ways to get under the reign of your own peanut gallery. We can, as Suneel Gupta and Jerry suggest in this podcast conversation, revisit the story of Milarepa who turns to his demons and says, “Eat me if you wish.” Similarly, author Rob Breszny prompts readers last week to write an essay titled “How I Fed and Fed and Fed My Monsters Until They Ate Themselves to Death.” (Which would make a great journal prompt if you feel so inclined to entertain that one.)
What do those monsters need so that they can no longer rob you of your most fully lived life, and most importantly: so that the world can experience the fullness of who you are?