One of life’s big challenges is going within and managing to find your own voice, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. When we’ve spent so much time trying to live up to our own and other people’s expectations it’s often hard to figure out at heart, what we really want and think. Here’s some advice for separating out other people’s voices you’ve internalized from your own.
Reread your journal
It’s easy to write journal entry after journal entry and then never look at them again. But your journal is a treasure trove of the real you. Sometimes we may say the same things over and over but never even realize it until we look back. Or the process of getting things out on to the page is traumatic enough that we don’t realize what’s significant until we go back and look it over.
Personally, I’ve found I don’t reread journals as much as I’d like to. Partly it’s due to time, partly because I often don’t really want to reexperience what I’ve written about even though it will benefit me. By the time I’m done with a lengthy journal it just seems overwhelming to go back and read it. What I’ve found helpful is to reread the past few days of my journals as I go and highlight what seems especially brilliant or meaningful (which, alas, ends up being not that much). Then it’s really easy to go back and look over the highlighted sections.
Name your voices.
This isn’t so you can convince yourself you’re crazy. Naming the voices helps you identify a voice as someone else’s if that’s the case — for example, if your inner critic is actually the voice of your mother, or the voice telling you your art is no good is your old college professor of twenty years ago. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, named her inner critic Nigel and told him to shut up a lot.
This is also helpful when you recognize that you’re telling yourself the same old stories. Naming the narrator, like “that’s my Poor Me voice,” or “the voice that tells me I should eat the whole tub of ice cream,” helps you realize that voice telling the story isn’t your higher self and may not have your best interest in mind.
Listen to yourself.
Your inner voice may be weak, but it will get stronger if it realizes someone is listening. When you’re getting to know someone you let them talk, you’re curious about them. You listen carefully to what they say and how they say it. Give yourself the same quality of attention.
This can be hard to do, because we tend to not notice what we’re telling ourselves. One way to practice listening is to spend some time regularly (preferably at home alone) talking to yourself. Talk a lot. Babble. Don’t hold back. It can be interesting to find out what you really think of your tea, or how you enjoy peeling bananas. Little things like this can seem silly, but they can add up to a persona that you never really appreciated was there before.
Often we hide our real selves because we’ve done it since we were little children trying to adapt to our families and environment. We hid away parts of ourselves because we didn’t think they’d be accepted or were afraid what would happen if we revealed ourselves. Because of that, these parts may not be easy for us to see now, and we may still look at them as something that should be pushed under the rug. Whatever comes up, don’t judge it. Do you think you sound selfish, whiny, full of yourself? Let these parts of you come out onto as you talk to yourself or onto the page and respect them. See what they have to say.
Often, when these bits of us finally get to emerge, we realize that not only aren’t they that bad, but they can be solid gold. Maybe you were told you were “too much” when you were little, but if you listen to yourself talk you might realize that you’re just curious and clever and outgoing. Or maybe you were taught that asking for what you want was selfish, but when you finally let yourself do it you don’t sound unreasonable at all.
Ask multi-layered questions.
If you ask yourself what you think or feel about something, you’ll get an answer, but it might just be “because.” If you ask yourself why you think or feel that thing, you’ll find out a lot more. Often if you don’t have an answer to “why,” it’s because you’ve just internalized someone else’s opinion. This is good to find out.
Sometimes it takes several layers of why to get to the bottom of what you actually feel about something or what your own genuine opinion is. Have fun with it, though. This shouldn’t be an inquisition! It should be more like a pre-teen sleepover with slippers and candy.