People think of the voices in their head as their own fearful secret. It’s something you have to hide. “If people knew the stuff my mind thinks and says they would think of me as weird or crazy. So to be safe of judgment, embarrassment, or other people’s reactions I’ll just keep them hidden.” The result is that we carry around fear and shame about having them. This adds a layer of thoughts and emotions to our already burdened mind. It also prevents us from dealing with them effectively. There is a better way to live. One of the biggest secrets no one is that most people’s minds have talking, and sometimes screaming voices in their head. The people that don’t have these voices in there with them are just convinced that it is them doing the thinking.
These self criticisms can be damaging, here is why.
First, to clear up some myths about the voices in your head. Yes, plural, multiple voices. It’s not just one. It is quite normal to have many “voices” in your head. These are the various programs of thinking or belief systems that have been developed and operate in your mind. These systems of beliefs mostly reside in the unconscious and you consciously perceive some of the thoughts. Most will miss the emotions and embedded meanings packaged with the thoughts until you develop more self awareness.
Here is and example of how you can have multiple thoughts that take the form of different voices. Perhaps a part of you wants to take a vacation to the beach. You have another aspect of your personality that is concerned with financial safety and planning. It prioritizes saving money for the future. These two parts of your mind are two different belief systems with two different trained agendas. These belief systems form a narrative of thoughts and makes a case in your mind. Since there are two you end up with a conversation of conflicting thoughts in your own head. These different voices are part of a normal mind. Depending on how strong these belief systems are, and how much emotional investment they were developed with determines how loud, abusive, excited, judgmental, fearful, or forceful they are. Each time you hear yourself or someone else make a statement like, “there is a part of me that…” consider that you are hearing one aspect of their belief system’s thinking.
Some schools of modern psychology use the term sub-personality to describe these different voices (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subpersonality) Based on Jungian work they say the average person has about 12 sub-personalities. I generally use the term characters when referring to them. It is nothing to be ashamed of or worried about. Having different sub-personalities is not the same thing as having multiple-personality disorder. The latter is much more extreme. In the latter the mind’s different beliefs are highly emotional, destructive, and prone to inciting violence. In the typical mind the voices just cause conflicts of thinking and emotional suffering.
Spiritual traditions that are focused on alleviating suffering such as Buddhism have known about these different voices in the mind for hundreds, and thousands of years. They have developed practices to work with them. That work might be to integrate them, calm them, quiet them, or free yourself depending on the type of thought, emotion, and belief. There are many viable approaches and have different reasons for being valid.
Some people say they don’t have voices in their head. However, if you ask them if they think, they will say yes. If you ask them if they have conversations of conflicting thoughts they will tell you yes. If you ask them if there is a narrator in their head giving a description of things they will also say yes. If you ask them to sit down and quiet their mind they will tell you that they can’t. They still have voices, but they regard all the chatter as their own thinking. When asked to quiet their thinking they can not. My conclusion, since they can’t quiet their thinking is that they have voices also. They just have a different name for them. They call it their thinking even if they have no control over it at times. Another description for the same thing is unconscious beliefs running their program of thoughts and emotions. Another name for this uncontrolled incessant thinking is ‘voices in my head.” These people feel their identity is with their mind and so assume they are the source of the thinking. When you move your awareness into consciousness you will perceive the mind as having it’s own thoughts.
The difference is whether you view these talking voices from a perspective of the mind, or from the consciousness of a witness observer. When you become self-aware enough you perceive the mind chatter, monkey mind, or voices as very separate from you. There is a gap between what you describe as your “Self” (Consciousness) and the beliefs generating thoughts in the mind. A person who considers it their own thinking is identified with the mind. They do not perceive this gap of separation. The mind views all the chatter it creates as coming from itself, because it does. In mindfulness practices, creating and maintaining this gap is called being the witness observer.
One of the mis-steps people make while working to quiet the voices or incessant thinking is that people have fearful thoughts that having runaway thinking is a terrible thing. The thought about their voices is fearful they might have schizophrenia or some other psychological problem What is important to be aware of is that this thought, is coming from one of those voices as well. Since may therapists or psychiatrists have spent many years in school they are identified with the mind as well and don’t understand or experience their mind from a consciousness perspective. Others have practiced mindfulness, or even studied some of the branches of psychology that address these different sub-personalities and are quite familiar with how normal this is.
One of the important steps is to notice your relationship to these thoughts and voices. It doesn’t matter so much what the thought is as your thought about the thought.
Everyone’s mind is capable of imagining wild and crazy things. Everyone’s mind does. How we relate to that thought, and how we think and feel about that thought makes the experience completely different. Here is an example. Years ago I would occasionally have a thought that would involve taking my own life. While driving I could imagine veering into the oncoming traffic lane into a truck. I didn’t take the thought seriously. I knew I wouldn’t do it. I didn’t have a fearful reaction that “I” could think such a thing. Rather, I had a curious reaction about why my “mind” would generate such a thought. What kind of belief was in there that would toss out such a scenario image? My “thought” about my thought was a curious one instead of a fearful one.
In another case, a science fiction or horror writer could have horrific thoughts of destruction and think they would be great for a story or movie. Their response to a “horrific” thought is to turn it into an exciting story and perhaps making a living from sharing them. Their “thought” about such a thought is one of excitement and entertainment.
Having voices in your head isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. We all think. You are thinking with a voice in your head as you read this. If I have done a very good job writing this article you might even perceive my voice in your head as you read my words as if I were talking to you. This is part of the magic of the mind and imagination.
The relationship you have with my voice makes a big difference in how you feel. If you are reading this and fearful that I think a lot about dying and horrific thoughts you might have a reaction of fear or sadness. However, if you are curious, you have a completely different relationship, and experience of these words I share with my voice. If the relationship is not in a healthy state, you can begin to feel unworthy.
Want to overcome low self esteem and insecurity? Here is how.
I’ll reiterate my point. The thoughts you think aren’t that dangerous or seriously a problem. What often creates more of a problem is the relationship you have to your thoughts and voices in your head. If you are afraid of them, or identify as the person thinking them, you are more likely to suffer emotionally.
If you identify and completely believe the voices in your head, it can become emotionally painful. It can become a problem if these voices are telling you to harm yourself, or others. If you believe these thoughts as valid or that you feel compelled to act on them the emotional suffering increases. This is the rare scenario for which people should seek professional help. For most people, it is a mindfulness nuisance, meditation challenge, or cause for emotional misery, anxiety, depression, and suffering. In these cases, the better solution is to develop that mindfulness gap and begin dismantling the unconscious beliefs the thoughts arise from.
Another mistake when dealing with incessant thinking of voices in our head is that we try to hide or ignore them. It’s understandable. Typically, the only reference we have is that they are an indicator of a terrible psychological problem. We fear and often turn away from things that we don’t understand because they cause us to feel uncomfortable. We also lack the skills of how to effectively change them. Our efforts to make them shut up or ignore them is a lousy strategy because it is ineffective. Not only that, but you develop voice telling them to shut up, and perhaps one that says you should ignore them. Mindfulness and Self Mastery skills will help you tame the voices in your head.
The inner critic can be tamed, here is how!
When your conscious awareness is expanding, you become less identified with the mind. You develop a different sense of your self. You become aware that the mind is thinking thoughts by itself, and you create a gap of mindfulness between you, and the voices you used to identify as “you.” This conscious awakening is typical for some people when they get older.
It is also typical for people that take up meditation. They are seeking an expansion of consciousness, and one of the things they run into is their “monkey mind” chatter. All the meditations practices run into this and provide practices to address it. What does that indicate? It indicates that having voices in your head are normal part of the human condition, and that as you move into a consciousness state you will see them as separate from you. How you decide to relate to them will have a great impact on how your life goes from there.
Meditation might be your answer. Click here for an article about meditation and self mastery work.
Yes. You can quiet, calm, and even completely eliminate their often negative chatter. There are different ways to do this, and I suggest starting with the Self Mastery course. It will help move you to a conscious observer faster than meditation, and help you break down the project of quieting your mind into more manageable steps. That will get you further along on your pathway to happiness.
That depends on what you mean by “get rid” of them. Will they become quiet and your emotions become peaceful? Yes. However, that sometimes happens because you integrate the information and awareness they have for you. Other times they no longer serve anything useful and can be dissolved, or dissolve as you release your attachments to their beliefs. Sometimes they are holding emotions, repressed emotions, and when you release that emotion, they dissolve. The Releasing Emotions Exercise and the Recapitulation Course are good for this approach.
Other voices may serve a useful role and so you want to keep them. However, you may want to completely change the way they do their job. For instance, an angry voice might be operating as a Protector trying to keep you from getting hurt. However, it unleashes on people in over-reactions and is doing damage to your relationships when not necessary. In this case you do want some way of protecting yourself, but this character needs to learn when it is appropriate and how much. You might also have an overdeveloped need for anger because you haven’t learned good skills in setting and keeping boundaries. Once set good boundaries for yourself, you can let the Protector carrying your anger relax.
Working with and changing the voices in your head so that your mind is quiet, peaceful, and works for you is an exploration, discovery, and sometimes a trial and error process. There is not a singular answer that fits every person or situation. You will have some exploring involved in finding the best direction for you in quieting, integrating, or getting rid of the voices in your head.
Having any regret about past thoughts? Read this article.
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