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The voices in your head

Dear one,

On March 22, 2021, a very sick man walked into our neighborhood grocery store in Boulder and sprayed bullets throughout, senselessly killing ten people.

Our community was shook. Already, we'd been trying to make sense of the isolation and polarization of the pandemic. Now this?

For months, we passed by signs, mourners, and national news crews that served as constant reminders of the darkness that lurks in our world today.

For one of my children, it was very difficult to move past. How do you explain horrors like this to young children? You can't, and often, you don't want to.

But with the very visible scene in what was once our sleepy neighborhood, everyone was asking questions.

We shared the facts. We told our children they were safe, and we'd do anything we could to protect them.

But still, after the tragedy, and even now, each time I leave the house, and every single night before bed, my sweet child asks me:

"Mom, promise you won't leave me? Promise you'll come back?"

His fundamental sense of safety was rocked that day. Unsurprisingly and beyond his control, the volume on his fear was turned up very high that day. It's been hard to turn back down.

I decided to show my son the movie Inside Out, a brilliant animated show about a little girl who moves away from home. It depicts what happens inside her head when her fear, joy, anger, and sadness, each depicted by characters, interact with one another. It's since served as helpful frame for when I have to leave, and just generally with making sense of childhood behavior.

"Can you feel how the fear voice is turned up really high right now? Can we turn up your calm voice now?" We've even picked colors for the different emotions.

Why do I share this with you?

Because children, often our wisest teachers, are so vulnerable and open. It is easy to spot the voices other people battle with, especially in children who so genuinely show what they feel. It is harder and more important to spot our own.

I'll introduce you to a few of my key players that have been romping about in my brain my whole life:

  • Worry - These days, this one wakes me up with a start. It spins out about if my kids are okay, or if I said or wrote something lame that I may need to triage once I wake up.

  • Perfection - This bitch won't let me rest. It's like I'm never doing enough - never successful enough, working out enough, not a good enough mom, not skinny enough, and on, and brutally on, constantly demanding more.

  • Sadness - For me, this one stays fairly hidden. I've stuffed it pretty hard because I've always identified as "strong." So the moment this baby comes to the surface, it gets body slammed to the ground by the veiny, big-biceped Strong Voice (another one of my key players). On my own quest, I've learned so much about the strength that comes from sadness. (But that, my friends is another post!)

The thing about these voices is that they are set into motion in childhood as a means of survival. You did not choose your particular voices, and in fact, the ones you have in place are quite wise and adaptive in aiding your mental and emotional survival.

Now you. Take a moment and answer this question before reading on:


Think of at least a few. Or carry this question with you throughout your day and see who comes to the front.

Michael Singer, author of Unteathered Soul, was the first one to expose the idea to me that we are the presence BEHIND the talking that happens in our head. And Richard Schwartz, founder of Internal Family Systems (IFS) is taking it a step further with his form of transformative psychotherapy that suggests that our minds are inherently multiplicative, and that this is a good thing. By allowing all of our "parts" he theorizes, we can better harmonize and heal ourselves, and our world.

Perhaps most interesting to me in the theory of IFS is Schwartz's notion of Self. Our true Self, Schwartz suggests, the one that Singer would say sits behind the voices, is constituted of 8 C's by Schwartz's account.

Why does this matter?

Because it reminds us that these 8 qualities are our truest, most natural ways of being. When we have strayed from them and we feel ourselves in our other, less empowering states, we can remember that it is one of our adaptive voices stepping into the picture. One that was set in motion in our youth. The volume has been turned up, so to speak.

Your fuming anger is not who you are, it's one piece of you. Or the pitty you feel for yourself regularly is not the entirety of your personality.

The work, then, is threefold. It's about:

  1. Identifying what your particular brand of voices are, and not over-identifying with them.

  2. Letting them speak their side to you, but making decisions from the place of Self Leadership -- the 8 C's. If we don't give these voices a seat at the table, they will only turn the volume up higher until we do.

  3. Reminding these adaptive voices that you are safe. You are okay. And thanking them for the messages they carry.

I like to imagine my Truest Self sitting in the middle of the circle, and all the many adaptive voices sitting around me, informing me, but with the Real Me at the helm.

Here's to beginning to recognize, without shame or judgement, all the pieces of ourselves so that we may learn to have more self-compassion. It is only from this space that we can have real compassion for others.

diagram: *


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