We all have voices in our heads.
I don’t necessarily mean the actual auditory hallucinations experienced by people diagnosed with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. Nor do I mean the voices of dissociative alters, formed in the aftermath of trauma.
I mean that we all have programs running in our heads. Think of them like old tapes, running in the background. They’ve been running in the background of our heads for so long, most of us have learned to tune them out, consciously. They’re just always there, always have been. Few of us pay a lot of attention to what they say— at least, with our conscious minds.
They’re the voices of parents. The voices of teachers. The voices of peers. Sometimes it’s what we imagine the voices of God or angels might sound like. They’re the voices of historical figures. The voices of fictional characters, who we’ve heard in movies and read about in books and internalized as part of our inner tape collection.
Hundreds and hundreds of voices, playing on a loop in our heads, making sense of the world and its events for us. Telling us what life is all about, what we’re all about, what the possibilities of our world are, what we should do.
Over the course of our lives, we’ve internalized hours and hours and hours of programming about what things mean, and this programming plays on a loop in our head, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter.
Sometimes the voices we’ve internalized tell us helpful, constructive things. One of the prominent voices inside my head is Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi, as he tells Luke Skywalker about The Force in the movie Star Wars: “It’s an energy field that surrounds us, it penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”
You’ll be amazed, when you stop and really look at the voices that make up your internal programming, how many of those voices come from pop culture.
Movies, books, stories, songs. The things we’re exposed to every day on television and in movie theaters and on the radio get far more opportunities to bore themselves into your unconscious than most people even start to realize.
Which, frankly, is part of the problem.
Because some of the voices in our heads aren’t so helpful.
Just as an exercise, look at the lyrics of any five love songs that might spring into your head.
Set aside the fact that they may be pretty songs, and look at the story being told by their lyrics. While there are some very appealing love songs out there, the overwhelming majority of them tell stories of people who are desperate for love, who feel empty without it, cannot imagine a world without their beloved— not, in other words, the inner monologue of adults who feel secure and confident in their self-esteem, regardless of what happens in their love lives.
Likewise, look at the great romantic movies many of us enjoy so much. I mean, I totally get it, I’m a sucker for a good love story. But the anguish experienced by characters when they are apart from their beloved in so many of these stories speaks to a lack of fulfillment that, unfortunately, romantic love is not going to fix— I guarantee characters who feel empty before getting into a relationship are going to feel probably even emptier once they get into one.
Now, I fully understand that this is entertainment, pop culture, we’re talking about. OF COURSE stories are going to be simplified and emotions exaggerated for the sake of a good narrative arc. My quibble is not with the artistic liberties creators take in order to make art that moves us.
My issue is, over the course of decades, we allow the voices of these desperate characters to sink deeply into our minds, to the point where they form many fundamental ideas we have about ourselves, the world, relationships, and the future.
More to the point, when we’re lonely, when we’re discouraged, when we really need some voices whispering into our ear to give us some guidance…a lot of the time the voices we get back are the voices of pop culture that have created the problem in the first place.
The good news is, we can pick and choose our voices.
We can break way from the default setting of just letting all of that programming sink into our heads, and use our magnificent minds to do some thinking: “Is this a premise about relationships I want to accept? Does it reflect my values? Does it reflect my goals? Does it reflect the life I’m trying to create?”
Part of developing high, heathy self-esteem is developing your own philosophy of life, one that reflects your values, your goals, and reality as you understand it. A big part of developing our own life philosophies is in becoming aware of the programing that has informed our default life philosophy up until now— and deciding if we really wanna keep it.
Luckily, you’ve been given the perfect tool for this task— your magnificent mind.
Listen for the voices in your head. Just quiet your mind, and listen for them.
Listen to them for awhile.
Then ask yourself if maybe it’s time to switch up the old tapes.
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