The Voices In Our Heads

One of my tasks as a therapist is to help clients identify and manage the unhelpful, irrational, automatic thoughts that can lead to anxiety and depression. Some of these thoughts are easy to identify. Others play in our heads without our being really aware they are there. Even so, those thoughts are powerful and can lead to a lot of misery.

I am often beset with such thoughts myself, and they cause me lots of anxiety. I know exactly where they come from, too. My mother.  I picked up from her what I call “We are all going to die in the ditch” thoughts that nag at me with the worry that bad things are just around the corner, and you can never relax or trust that things won’t get worse.

My mom was justified in developing this mentality. Her life was a series of hopes that turned into disasters–she meets the young man will marry, and then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and he goes away and she doesn’t see him again until 1945. Once he is back and they finally get on their feet financially, their apartment is destroyed by a fire.  They start a family, and her appendix ruptures at seven months gestation and she loses the child and is in the hospital for months. She gets healthy again and develops MS.  After that, things went quite well for her and there were no more disasters, but the salience of those disasters stayed with her and left her assuming the worst and waiting for the next disaster to happen.  Her thoughts just oozed into my brain and it is quite a trick to combat them

I listen to the Broadway station on our car radio, and I heard two songs recently that made me realize that there are sources all around us for unhealthy and self-defeating  thoughts. I am using YouTube clips so as to avoid any rannygazoo with copyrights.  Listen to the lyrics and ponder the unhealthy messages.

Whose voices are in your head?  Whose voice would be more helpful?  

87 thoughts on “The Voices In Our Heads”

  1. Here are two of my ‘go to’….they are amoung many…too difficult to choose but I limited myself…and hopefully they will work.

    The first is sung but two favorite voices…Placido Domingo and Sissel….and ‘tho it is not sung in English…I like it all the better probably because I listen to the voices and the music rather than concentrating on any other meaning than beauty. “Bist Du Bei Mir”-Verdi

    The second is my favorite poet e.e.cummings put to music by Eric Whiticare. I wouldn’t normally like poetry such as his set in music, but Eric is a brilliant composer and this is a most wonderful piece. “I thank you God for this most amazing day.”

    I seem to always have music floating in my head…
    It is a comfort, uplifting and just mostly peaceful to choose music I want to hear at a particular time.

    When I was dealing with PTSD I listened to Swedish songs and carols…they gave me comfort. I made it through that and still listen to a favorite CD by The Real Group, “Stämning”…featuring Eric Ericson, now deceased, a famous & brilliant choral conductor in Sweden. The disc is a capella…as is all their music but Erickson directed them in the Swedish folk songs and hymns beautifully.

    I have so many favorites…too many to list…
    Music soothes this soul.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It often feels as if there are several voices. None belong to my mother or father. Usually the voices comment on what I’m doing. They aren’t always kind, and yet even the more caustic of them seem to have some sympathy for me.

      One of those voices spoke up with a trenchant observation when I was at the lowest point in my life. I was startled by that. What that voice said set me on the path to a better place, although the path was long and took a long time to walk.

      Another time the voice spoke up it seemed amused by my distress. I had been playing racquetball when something snapped in my knee. In the moment while I was falling to the floor, but before I hit it, a little voice wryly noted, “Buddy, your dancing days are done.” I couldn’t quite figure out his attitude.

      In the end have figured out who speaks to me. All the voices–even the jeering one who speaks with Howard Cosell’s accent–are mine.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Neither one seems healthy. Perfectionism is self-defeating and violence in a relationship is unacceptable. But if a choice has to be made, I’d take “Being Good” for that would hopefully just affect myself.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Actually, I imagine that it could be a good combination at least some of the time.

        From other things you’ve said about your teaching days, I always thought you sounded like an excellent teacher.

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  3. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Nice post Renee, thanks. BTW, it is very helpful to have you say that we need posts–I never know, so your reminder at the end of the day yesterday is motivating. Does WP have a little chart in the corner with the post count we could look at?

    At my worst I have my mother’s voice in my head when she was at her worst. Critical, scathing, cruel. There is no peace there. When I am in a more neutral place, I can just be realitistic and gentle, encouraging, and evaluating myself and others.

    At my best I have David Sedaris’ voice in my head, and I am laughing and having fun. Guess whose audiobook I am listening to now?

    Liked by 3 people

  4. THE voice is the DARK voice, which has been there forever and ruled my life for awhile in my early 40’s. It is my own voice. It comes from a chemical fault in my body. It says things like “don’t open that mail or answer that phone, It will be bad news.” It drags up my old failures. It ruins my perspective. Drives me away from social interactions. It used to sap my energy. It colored my world to gray or even black. It has never spoken of suicide, just inadequacy. It is not very strong any more.
    The other big voice when I am in high pain or surrounded by chaos is the flight or fight voice. I choose flight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why do the dark voices have so much power? If I were given a choice, I’d listen to the voice of hope rather than fear, but it doesn’t usually feel like a have a choice. Hope’s encouraging messages get drowned out by fear’s harshness.

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      1. The psych research demonstrates that it takes about 3 positive messages to undo a negative message. Just the way it is–negative has more power (which explains our current national CEO). If twelve people tell you that you have a positive quality, 4 people telling you that you do not will completely undo the twelve positives.

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  5. Interesting photo, Renee! Where’d that come from?

    I suppose the voice I hear is an amalgam of all the people I have aimed to please in my life, mostly parents (whose voices were not awfully judgmental), but who knows who else is in there? When I was journaling a lot in the 70s, sometimes two voices would show up. One was saying “oh leave her alone, she’s doing all right.” That’s the one I want to listen to.

    Like slilyss, I now hear a lot of music, but it doesn’t seem that I choose it – it chooses me. I understand if it’s something we’re rehearsing for chorus – my brain wants the practice. But often it’s an earworm from somewhere in my brain. I should start listening more to what I want for earworms, maybe.

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  6. Whose voices are in my head? The themes are the usual…you’re not good enough to make a success (either everyday or lifetime type of success); nobody likes you; you don’t deserve a decent life. Etc. etc. The voices are mine, reinforced from others’ voices in the past and currently.

    Whose voices would be more helpful? I think people who are realistic and don’t just recite meaningless platitudes and optimistic sounding things that aren’t based in reality. This includes: Baboon voices; Steve’s voice; certain friends’ voices.

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  7. I am sitting on the front patio, protected by the portico listening to wrens and cardinals. They are nesting in the yard. Now those are voices worth a listen!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Hi Kids!
    I’ve been catching up on the last 4 or 5 blogs this morning. I finished spring planting last night. Whew! (well, almost; some more sweetcorn to plant and one field at the neighbors that we leave for the deer but the ‘important’ ((cash crop)) fields are done.)

    I have different voices for different things. Often it’s theater mentors telling me to get on with one thing or another.
    Sometimes it’s my Dad when fixing something.
    Sometimes it’s Mom saying ‘it will be Fine’.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I’ve always been fascinated by the voice of my inner monologue. When I was a kid I didn’t know other people heard voices like that. I thought I was the only one who did. I assumed there was something seriously weird about me. I can’t tell you how astonishing it was to learn that other people had voices, too, although theirs were not particularly like mine.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. OT: I don’t know how many will see this, but I should tell you I’ll soon be silent. We have to wrap up my computer to ship it to my new home in Michigan. I’m not sure when that happens, or how well I might be able to chip in some comments using another laptop.

    Meanwhile, there are storm clouds over this move. Yesterday my daughter was delighted to see that real estate in Saint Paul is quite reasonable. So . . . who knows?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Moves are stressful, so arm yourself with lots of patience. Considering that Molly is the one responsible for the organizing and all the physical work in preparation for the move, she’s probably stretched beyond her limits. Give her lots of latitude.

      What did you decide with regard to your travel and your car?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You wouldn’t believe the complications affecting this move, PJ. Molly is awesome. I do everything possible to not complicate her life.

        We are shipping my car for several hundred dollars. I fly (for what I swear will be the last time) in an airplane, first class.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Seems to me that that could work two ways: It could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and not a very good move, or, because your expectations are low, it might actually pleasantly surprise you. I sure hope it’s the latter.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Don’t worry PJ. I’ll be fine. I’m worried for others, not for myself. And there isn’t much I can do for them I have not already tried to do.

          Actually, my expectation for myself is that this could be good. There will be things I dislike and things I like about my new home. The community I’m joining has a movie night, a book club and a sort of cafeteria. Plus there will be people to talk to, which will sure be welcome.

          I just hope the move works for others.

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  10. I thought about inner voices this morning while I was out trimming the lilacs and peashrubs with an electric hedge trimmer.

    I’m pretty used to using power tools, but they still make me feel uneasy, because I don’t fully trust myself with them. So when I’m using the hedge trimmer, there’s a voice in my head that keeps up a little chant that goes, “Cord, cord, cord, where’s the cord? Watch the cord…Blade, blade, blade, where’s the blade? Watch the blade,” over and over. It keeps me on my toes.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Nice post. I agree with you – we all hear voices sometimes that say cruel things about ourselves. and it can be very difficult not to listen to them, especially when you face difficult times or other people who try to put you down to just build themselves up. It magnifies the voices even more.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. The voice in my head that needs constant monitoring is the voice shaped by my parents, mostly my mother. Hyper critical, always judgmental, ever vigilant, and never encouraging.

    The voice trying to counter that has been slow in developing. That voice that tells me to be more forgiving, less judgmental, and more accepting, even of myself. That voice tells me to let go of old hurts, old grievances and prejudices. I can tell that the first voice is mighty persistent, but I refuse to give in to her.

    I find it interesting that the more forgiving I can be of myself for still making errors, the easier it is to forgive mom for her transgressions. It also makes it a lot easier to withhold judgment about others.

    Liked by 5 people

  13. The good voice inside my head is the rehearsal, planning voice. I stood in the back in watched myself doing rehearsing, stopping myself and editing and redoing. I rehearsed lessons, presentations, sermons. I planned out in detail short writings, the parts of technical writing and books, etc.

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  14. Not being a therapist, I wouldn’t have guessed what goes on in other people’s heads. I live in my head a lot and the voice I hear there is undoubtedly my own.
    My parent’s voices were never there, not even when they were alive and I can’t imagine what their critical voices would have sounded like. Since I’ve been self regulated for as long as I can remember, no foreign external voice obtains.
    My internal voice works on problems, rehearses actions and sometimes imaginary conversations, makes observations and sometimes composes short prose or poetry. Because my personal philosophy is my own and not something I have adopted “off the shelf”, my inner voice sometimes works on refining the supportive rational underpinnings.
    I consider my inner voice a friend and partner; when I take long walks, I tend not to wear earphones because it stifles my inner conversation. The voice can be critical, but is usually realistically objective. The criticisms are more along the lines of “that’s not very good, but you could do better if you worked at it.” or “that’s pretty good, but get over yourself.” The voice never makes ad hominem attacks on my character or worthiness. What would be the point?

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Leave it to Bill to have such a rational and companionable inner monologue voice. My earlier post on this topic called mine “the crazy uncle who lives in my attic,” and that says it pretty well. His attention span is Trumpian, and he is easily distracted by pretty women. His advice (like the advice we get from so many) is unflattering Monday morning quarterback stuff. If I could ditch him and replace him with someone like Bill has, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

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      1. It would be delusional for me to present myself without failings but personal sabotage is not one of them. I wonder why self evaluation so often seems to include a hypercritical “other”?

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        1. It is a good question, Bill. My guess is that many of us grow up with a hypercritical voice telling us we aren’t measuring up well. Some of us get that message from our parents. Others get it from someone we marry. Theoretically some people get that message from a bad boss, but I doubt they internalize the message the way people internalize the critical messages coming from those we live with.

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  15. When I took over the farm from my folks, it was a constant struggle to delegate my own thoughts and ideas from my dads voice in my head (and for a few years him actually standing over my shoulder telling me how to do something– parts of the transition were difficult).
    And for a long time all my ideas were tempered by ‘is this what dad would do or want?’
    And not all of that was bad. (But enough of it was)
    And I was glad to finally realize at some point I wasn’t doing that so much any more.

    A few months ago I got the Camel Tire Patch kit off the shelf and he was right there helping me fix that tire. And it was nice.

    Liked by 5 people

  16. My mother’s voice is in my head only as funny memories and her odd traits plus all her aphorisms. My cheapness comes from my childhood, as so many people of my age. My mother was neither critical nor supportive. My father was very critical of how I did task he assigned. I never hear his voice. I dismissed him from my mind at about age 10.
    My mother’s voice used to be inside my mother’s head, but she drove it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your reference to dismissing your father’s voice brings to mind my recollection of, as a child or young teen, realizing that my perceptions and the ones being pressed on me couldn’t co-exist and that I was going to have to go with one or the other. I decided thenceforth to trust my perceptions, since they would always be there for me.

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  17. We often read that schizophrenics hear voices, voices that sometimes tell them to do terrible things. I’m imagining that this kind of “hearing” voices is much different than the voices we have described above. The inner monologue that I carry on with myself is essentially a thinking process, and I’m in full control of whatever the viewpoints are expressed. When I say that my mother to a large extent has “shaped” one of those inner voices, it’s not my mother’s voice I hear, it’s the habit of being critical instead of encouraging, blaming instead of empathetic, and fearful instead of courageous. That doesn’t mean I hold my mother accountable or responsible for that default setting in my thinking. I am responsible for that, and only I have any hope of counteracting it.

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    1. I do actually hear voices, always in two circumstances. I mean I hear them, or my mind says I do. 1) I am half awake waking up in high pain. 2) I am in severe pain and am trying to zone myself out. I always know who it is, someone in my life. They only say a word which has no relevance. I know these are just misfirings in my brain. I get a kick out of it. The memory of who said what quickly fades.

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      1. Are the voices you hear of certain people that recur or are they a random sample of people you know or have known?

        Lately, I’ve been dreaming a lot, and very vividly. I find it fascinating that the people who show up in my dreams are sometimes people I haven’t had contact with in ages; some, like my mother, who have been dead for years, and some current friends and neighbors. So far I’ve been unable to detect a pattern that could give me a clue as to what triggers them.

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        1. Almost every president in recent times has shown up in my dreams. Not the present one, thank goodness. Sometimes these appearances are funny. For example, in one dream I was running through a classic haunted house being pursued by a man shooting his pistol at me. At some point I realized that while I should be terrified, I was actually feeling good about my chances. Why? Because the man chasing and shooting was “only” George W Bush. That was oddly comforting!

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  18. Speaking of voices, here’s a voice from the past. As relevant now as it ever was.

    “Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
    and whose shepherds mislead them.
    Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced,
    and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
    Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
    except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero
    and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.
    Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own
    and no other culture but its own.
    Pity the nation whose breath is money
    and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
    Pity the nation — oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode
    and their freedoms to be washed away.
    My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.”
    ― Lawrence Ferlinghetti

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Like very much.

      Also brings to mind this one:

      Heaven help the child who never had a home,
      Heaven help the girl who walks the street alone,
      Heaven help the roses if the bombs begin to fall,
      Heaven help us all.

      Heaven help the black man if he struggles one more day,
      Heaven help the white man if he turns his back away,
      Heaven help the man who kicks the man who has to crawl,
      Heaven help us all.

      Heaven help the boy who won’t reach twenty-one.
      Heaven help the man who gave that boy a gun.
      Heaven help the people with their backs against the wall,
      Lord, Heaven help us all, Heaven help us all.

      Now I lay me down before I go to sleep,
      In a troubled world, I pray the Lord to keep
      Keep hatred from the mighty and the mighty from the small,
      Heaven help us all.

      – Stevie Wonder

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Adding to your theme, PJ:
      Written by Cicero, Roman statesman in 42BC
      “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious, but it cannot survive treason from within. The traitor appears not a traitor and speaks of accents familiar to its victims and he appeals to the baseness which lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of the nation. He works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the nation and infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to be feared.”

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Linda, you know me better than Renee and ljb. That’s exactly what I meant. I debated putting a 🙂 after the statement, but decided that you’d know I was kidding. Glad you did. I even contemplated retaliating by saying that I was thinking it was more likely this one:

          Liked by 1 person

  19. It’s 1AM and I just opened up TB. Most of the time, I’m a pretty content little lady and enjoy my own company. There’s one notable exception, however: family gatherings at my son’s.

    The scene is Mary’s five adult kids huddling in a band with an energy field which repels outsiders; Mary, Steve, and Dave energetically catching up with each other; and five little cousins bouncing on the trampoline. The words I say to myself run along the lines of not fitting in with these very vibrant, successful children and that I don’t really have anything to add.

    I’ve had more than a few episodes of speaking without a filter in the past, never realizing that I’d once again spoken out loud what most people would just think. I’m more careful now, but have a history of crossing lines that I don’t even see. My kids have corrected or admonished me for speaking “out of turn” many times over the years. My initial reaction is to feel ashamed, go home, and lick my wounds. Ultimately, this tension I always feel at these gathering is about being so careful to not say the wrong thing that I hardly talk at all.

    This is, beyond a doubt, my mother talking to her now 73-year old daughter. She eavesdropped my conversations, read my diaries, and often sat me down after having my friends over to tell me how phony and unnatural I was and that I should just “be myself”. The problem with her controlling like this is that I never figured out who I was in order to be myself. I rarely felt like I fit in anywhere as a child, including my own family. At this stage, I fit in comfortably everywhere I am – except with my own family.

    My mother’s admonishments remain alive and virulent in only the one most important area in my life; my family. In therapy-speak, it’s called reenactment – unconsciously recreating original family dynamics.

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  20. my dad had a saying i think of often.
    f*** em feed em fish

    i think it applies cb
    you get to be who you are. if they dont like it they can lump it
    filter schmilter
    trump is an ass no matter how much money the kids have

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  21. I am the alter in charge. The birth child of this body is 2 years old and self-identifies as “Me.” We all have serious PTSD. I’ve been in therapy 25 years. I tossed out those “parent tapes” years ago. And my psychologist forced me to talk in terms of what I wanted or needed rather than what I didn’t want or need. Learn to do that and you can bulldoze those parent tapes because you are not reinforcing that negativity that keeps you stuck. Studies show that the absence of negative messages is more powerful than the presence of positive ones. My siblings disowned me. My psychologist taught me to create a door with a window in it. So I am inside looking out rather than on the outside looking in. And if they come to the door for any reason I get to decide whether or not to let them in. It’s really about boundaries. One of the ones I used was from Star Trek. “Shields up!” And I visualized myself on the bridge giving the order. I also learned to self-facilitate. Instead of “I can’t” I learned to ask myself, “How can I?” I also try to remind myself that blind people never see light at the end of the tunnel but they keep on moving forward.

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  22. To answer the question: the Leslie Uggams song brought to mind the voice that “used to be” inside my head – when I was much younger and full of hope and courage and energy. So it made me feel a little big melancholy. But the Frank Sinatra song also made me sad in a way. The music is up-tempo and the lyrics are catchy, but it brought to mind those long-forgotten feelings of being “punch drunk” on love and how that kind of love was so heady and unsustainable, it crushes you when it ends. Especially, when you gave up your dreams of being an entertainer in order to be with the man who eventually let you down.
    As for voices of those who have gone before me – I usually hear more from my father than my mother (she was from that era where nothing she said much mattered, so she seldom spoke unless it was time for dinner, or dishing out chores). I’m sure most of my siblings feel different. But my father was full of anecdotal things like, “What kind of birds can’t fly?” when I was released from a sleepover in Juvie at 13. Answer: Jailbirds. That was it. That was my punishment – because he knew I had already learned my lesson by leaving me there all day while he and my mother went about their normal work schedules. I thought I had been left to rot…and that was the point.

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