I was talking with a friend recently about the inner voice. Not the still, small voice of wisdom that leads us lovingly along the path of fulfillment, but the harsh, withering voice that convinces us we’re not even worthy of being on the path.
The voice that insists we simply don’t have what it takes to create the successful, fulfilling lives we long to live.
I often refer to that voice as the inner judge. My friend is more direct: she calls it the abuser. I have to admit, that word makes me uncomfortable. It’s just so…dramatic. And yet, I also have to admit that there have been many times when my own inner judge has been, truly and shockingly, abusive.
To be honest, I’ve committed a lot of energy and focus to learning how to respond to that voice, given how prominently and stubbornly it seems to have taken root in my psyche. I’ve also supported countless clients who have tangled with their own inner abuser and have come out beaten and bruised.
And confused. The abuser’s voice is almost ridiculously persuasive. It masquerades as the voice of reason, steeped as it is in the “reality” of our flaws and shortcomings. But the thing we must know about that voice is this: it doesn’t arise from reason at all. It arises from fear. And taking direction from fear is the surest route to a small, hollow and unhappy life.
Yet making our fear wrong is the surest route to perpetual inner conflict, just as acting in retaliation to someone who has hurt us is the surest route to perpetual outer conflict. Playing the fear game always assures more of the same. That’s why the great spiritual masters teach forgiveness, which is an expression of love so great that all judgment – even judgment of our abusers – is dissolved and only love remains. We’re lifted to a whole new level of consciousness and a whole new experience of life.
Yet I’ve learned – humbly and sometimes painfully – that I can’t pretend to be more evolved than I am in this moment and that, paradoxically, as I suspend judgment of myself as “not evolved enough,” I free myself to evolve further.
Right now, I’m not yet able to express unconditional love toward my inner abuser. Believe me, I’ve tried. But truth be told, I’m sick and tired of her. I want her gone.
So how can I respond to that abusive voice in a loving, sane and effective way, given where I currently am? In the absence of being able to instantly dissolve the voice with love, what can I do?
In the conversation with my friend about the inner abuser I observed that, if we were living with another person who was abusing us, our first obligation to ourselves would be to get out of the house. It wouldn’t be sane or healthy to attempt to reason – or argue – with someone so clearly disconnected from the sanctity of life.
I’ve learned that the same is true for the inner abuser: it isn’t sane to try reasoning or arguing with it. Please don’t do it. It will only keep you stuck. Very stuck. Because the very act of engaging with it arises from a false belief that the voice has a valid perspective which can be debated.
Engagement with the Voice = Validation of the Voice
And validation of the Voice means you’ll keep paying attention to it, and paying attention to it entangles you in its web of lies. You’ve got to stop.
You’ve got to get out of the house.
Obviously I’m not talking about getting out of your physical house. After all, as they say, wherever you go…there you are. With your inner abuser along for the ride, hissing its sour nothings in your ear and doing its best to stop you from being You.
Getting out of this metaphorical house means making a clear, firm choice to completely disengage from the voice.
It means saying No. NO. NO!
No, you will not speak to yourself that way. No, you will not listen to lies. No, you will not abandon your heartfelt desires. NO!!
This NO is a complete denial of the validity of the voice. It is a YES to your worthiness. It is a YES to exploration and movement. It is a YES to your right to learn, grow, create and evolve under the wise direction of your heart of hearts.
It is a YES to the very pulse of Life.
And in order for this NO to be a YES to Life, there is a small yet vital element that must be included: you need to keep your heart open as you say it. That’s the crucial element that evolves you toward an experience of unconditional love.
You’ve probably heard me talk before about what I call the “open-hearted No,” which we can learn to say to others when we’re not genuinely willing to say Yes to their requests or demands. The No is an act of self-honoring; the open heart is an act of openness to Life and to mutually respectful connections with others.
The same is true of the inner open-hearted No: the No is an act of self-honoring; the open heart is an act of openness to Life and to a mutually respectful connection with your true Self.
And so saying NO to your abusive voice is fundamentally a loving act , but it must be firm. Very firm. In a sense, saying NO to the abusive voice is denying its very existence in your reality. That voice has nothing to do with who you really are.
See if you can feel that in your bones. The abusive inner voice has nothing to do with who you really are. It warrants neither your resignation nor your rage, which are reactions to something “real.” It isn’t real unless you engage with it. It isn’t true. It isn’t valid.
It has nothing to do with who you really are.
So why might you still be influenced by it? How can it masquerade so effectively as the voice of reason? It’s because you’re probably listening to the words and not paying attention to the underlying consciousness – fear or love – from which the words arise.
Here is a simple yet common example that may resonate with you. Let’s say you are daring to step forward into your dreams. You are – almost by definition – stepping into the unknown. You’ve never done or experienced or created whatever you now want to do or experience or create.
And so in moments of uncertainty you might say to yourself, “You don’t know what the heck you’re doing!” On the surface, that statement – those words – are true. But when they’re spoken by the inner abuser, the hidden message beneath the words is something along the lines of, “You’re an idiot. You don’t have the talent or skill or experience to pull this off. There is no way you can succeed at this. Quit now before you embarrass yourself or lose everything.”
When the words are spoken from a consciousness of love rather than fear, the message beneath the words is something like this: “Wow, this is really an adventure! You are so courageous to follow your dreams. We’ll figure it out as we go along. I’m with you every step of the way.”
So how do you know whether your “You don’t know what the heck you’re doing!” arises from fear or from love? You can tell by the way you feel. When your inner abuser is speaking, you feel badly about yourself. When your inner heart is speaking, you feel good about yourself.
It really is that simple. But because so many of us have been conditioned to doubt and judge ourselves, the abusive voice has been with us a long time. It feels familiar. And because it feels familiar, we assume it must be true.
Please do not confuse familiarity with validity. Feel your feelings and let them reveal the true source of whatever voice has got your attention. And if your inner abuser is reading from a script written by fear and judgment, you know what to do.
Just say NO. And move on with an open heart.