We all have voices in our heads. Some people have truly disturbing ones. The kind that confuse, terrify and lead them into strange stories, mind-constructed. Stories where people implant microchips in heads to surreptitiously communicate. Where bodies are taken over, right down to special control of a particular organ's function. Some illnesses mean we cannot even trust our own thoughts completely.
But even the non-psychotic among us experience conversations in our minds. (I'm reassuring myself that its not just me...) We talk to ourselves about all sorts of things, but often the comments that stand out are self-criticism. 'I'm not good enough.' 'I wish I hadn't done that.' 'I'm so embarrassing.' 'I'm such a *(insert favourite insult)*.' 'I am bad/hopeless/worthless.' Or absolute statements beginning in feelings of loneliness or confusion - 'No one cares.' 'No one understands.'
On paper (or screen) most will read as exaggerations or even as ridiculous statements. Until you reach the one that has power in your mind-paradigm. Most people will have one. That you've practiced for many years. It will give rise to a sense of being overwhelmed or anxious, even depressed. These internal voices can be extremely powerful, and we may not even notice.
When we're stressed, the commentary gets louder, sometimes driving people to despair. Psychologists and therapists can help us to monitor and change the inner dialogue. We can learn to think more positively, to challenge irrational thoughts or self-statements. The rise of CBT, and more recently, positive psychology has seen more challenges to these early, slowly and carefully nurtured messages. That is a good thing.
But they are still based in the concept that our inner voices are ultimately trustworthy. If we just change them to positive messages, we'll be OK. For lots of people, changing their thinking like this is enough to help lift depression or manage anxiety. It can be empowering to realise that our thoughts and feelings are receptive to efforts to change them.
But what happens if we do all we can to change our internal messages, but life is still a struggle. What if we just can't seem to budge our instinctive negative thoughts? Do those inner voices win, and we concede that since they've been so sticky, they must be right? I've seen people do just that.
In that situation (and I would say in most situations), we are crying out for someone who's trustworthy words can trump the critical inner voices. But where do we find it? So often the people around us try to give us a more realistic appraisal and we don't listen, or we don't believe what they are saying.
I find it hard to give up my deep trust in my self-criticism, partly because it is a comfortable bit of my brain furniture, but mainly because it's hard to admit that my own brain has 'gone rogue'.
I don't have an easy answer. But this is what I'm thinking... I'd like to be so soaked in God's words that the instinctive dialogue in my mind involves him. When I'm stressed, or feeling inadequate, or struggling with anxiety, overwhelmed by depression, I'd like to listen to my inner voices saying things like...
"I will never fail you. I will never abandon you." (Heb 13:5b)
"The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love."
"The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease." (Lamentations 3:22)
What would you like to hear?