Monday, July 27, 2015

Voice Dialogue: Identifying the Voices in our Heads

Do you realize that we all have inner voices, sometimes known as sub-personalities? Everybody carries around a whole cast of characters. The more aware you can be of your cast, the better your life can become. You don't want one of your unhealthy voices running your life on auto pilot.

Two clinical psychologists in Northern California, Hal Stone, Ph.D., and Sidra Stone, Ph.D., developed the therapeutic technique known as "Voice Dialogue.” The idea is not to get rid of any of the internal voices, but to assist them in growing up and becoming more reasonable. This technique is very helpful for unhooking people from roles they have unconsciously played, not letting your behavior choices be dominated by a voice that's immature or destructive, and begin to familiarize you with some healthier, alternative voices.

This concept reminds me of a wonderful, classic book on clinical hypnosis called, My Voice Will Go with You. I have had a number of patients over the years who told me that they could "hear my voice" as a healthy advocate for them in difficult situations, almost as if they had internalized my voice and took a piece of our work together with them into their life.

The ego, or thinking part of the mind, first develops a Protector/Controller role. This happens when we are small children. Later, more sub personalities emerge, depending on our family relationships and environment. For example, primary selves develop like the Pusher, who makes you finish school or go to work, and the Pleaser, who wants to get along with others and be polite at all costs. The Rulemaker develops and tells us what people should be doing, us included. The Critic imposes expectations for our behavior and performance. The Rebel sub personality wants to defy, and not be restricted by the expectations of others.

The primary sub personalities also have opposite or "disowned" parts that are often not conscious. For example, the Pusher has an opposite, the Relaxer, who takes time off to relax, recharge, and play. People who become far too serious and workaholic can be said to have disowned their Relaxer voice and let the Pusher run wild with their life. Similarly, there is a Procrastinator voice whose opposite is the Proactive self. Some people have a Self-Distrusting voice, and the opposite which can be disowned is the Confident self. There are people who are dominated by their Intellectual voice and disown the Experiencing/Emotional self.

The goal in voice dialogue is to develop your ability to observe your inner selves, including the disowned selves, in a mindful way. This leads to more self-acceptance and more internal peace. You want to recognize when the selves are in conflict. If the voices disagree, it causes distress. Being more aware of the different aspects of self, and even the ability to get the healthier voices to dialogue with the less healthy ones, can really make you feel lighter and happier. You can get unstuck from automatic programming developed early in childhood. The attitudes and beliefs of our earliest caregivers can give us our set points.

Meet some of the rest of your cast:

·         The Critic: Has to be right, steals your self-confidence, likes to argue, can be critical of self or others. The disowned aspect of the Critic is the Compassionate self, who encourages, feels empathy, and is kind to self and others.

·         The Worrier: Likes to make you anxious thinks about "what if?" and fears you won't be able to cope with whatever happens. Its disowned partner is the Equanimity Self, who is confident and self-assured.

·         The Caretaker: Puts everyone else's needs first, can't set any boundaries to protect self, and is scared to disappoint anyone. It's disowned self is the Caregiver, who gives to themself and others, but doesn't take responsibility for other people, can say no without feeling guilty.

·         The Blamer: Likes to shift responsibility to everyone else, the past, and circumstances beyond their control. Fails to notice their own part in any trouble or conflict. The Blamer is not interested in changing any of their own behaviors. The Blamer is often a Rebel self as well, covering up insecurities through attacking others. The alternative is the Accountable self, who is more objective, can see their own part in situations, and sees the other person's part as well.

·         The Victim: Complains about being different, misunderstood, and not appreciated. Some victims really have been through loss, disappointment, or betrayal, but they just can't (or won't) give up that fixed role. There all sorts of fun combos here, as the Victim can join forces with the Critic, the Rebel, or the Blamer for equally unhealthy life scripts. The opposite is the Responsible self, who acknowledges that most people suffer some loss or challenges, but takes responsibility for creating the best life possible, despite difficulties that occur. Amazing things can happen when the Responsible self meets up with the Optimistic self.

·         The Enforcer/The Rulemaker: Rigid, unforgiving, inflexible, and tries to exert control as much as possible, over their own life, and those around them. Enjoys checking for mistakes. Needs rules for everything in order to cope with their fears and insecurities. The flip side self is relaxed, flexible, comfortable with guidelines, but doesn't need rules to feel safe. This is a Flexible/Easy-Going Self.

·         The Rebel: Feels entitled, wants to do things their own way, and can't exercise self-discipline or set limits with themself. The alternate is the Healthy self, which reminds us to act according to our values instead of always what we feel like.

·         The Pessimist: Sees absolutely everything from a negative light, kills the joy in things, ruminates, and predicts doom at all times. The Pessimist is exhausting to be around. Has a hard time trying anything new because they feel it will fail. The Optimist self, in contrast, sees difficulty as a learning curve, and events as short-term, focusing on what action they can take to make a positive difference.

·         The Excusemaker: Justifies, uses excuses, and rationalizes why they take unhealthy or negative actions. The disowned part here is the Responsible self.

By identifying your own internal cast of characters, you can move all the personalities along towards finding a healthy, supportive self who is not run on auto pilot from your childhood or your life experiences.

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