If you are someone who struggles with a constant level of annoying inner chatter, I wrote this for you. Other names you may have heard for inner chatter are: inner narrator, self-talk, autocommunication, inner monologue, soliloquy, or monkey mind. Personally, I name the voice depending upon the quality of what it is saying. There is the Judge, the Coach, The Boss, and several others. Each voice represents a different part within me. They are all working to protect me in some way. Though, usually their attempts at protection actually cause a lot more harm and suffering.
When I work with people who struggle to slow down and quiet their minds, I often suggest meditation. Cue the screeching brake sounds! Followed by a litany of reasons why meditation does not work for them. It hasn’t worked in the past because… I can’t do it because… Most of the time the rationales offered all lead back to a core belief that they are not able to do it “correctly,” because they can’t stop or quiet the thoughts. I was once one of those people, too, until I realized my belief about doing it wrong was actually what was supposed to be happening.
Actually, the first step to using meditation to manage all that chatter is to observe all that chatter! Observing it is really a good thing. Because that means there is another CONSCIOUS part of you that is separate from all those chattering parts.
Meditation offers a means for us to stop and NOTICE the automatic thoughts that are running our lives. It helps us to become AWARE of what we have been conditioned to think and feel, which has a direct impact on what we do. These automatic thoughts are blooming from our core beliefs. Discomforting emotional states, such as anxiety or depression, can be reinforced and exacerbated by the quality of this inner narration. The good news is that they can also be dismantled by it, too.
Awareness is the first step to change. Once the pattern moves into our conscious awareness, we can do something about it. As long as the beliefs underneath all that chatter remain hidden in the background we operate under it’s spell. Ever catch yourself asking, “Why do I keep doing that?” The pesky belief under there is the answer to that question.
When we meditate and attempt to quiet our minds, the thoughts that are automatic and ruminative will become more apparent to us. The first step is just noticing what the inner narrator is saying and next identify what emotion is being evoked as a result. This will help us identify the core belief underneath that feeling.
Is it telling you how awful, unattractive, or unintelligent you are? Maybe it is telling you how awful someone else is treating you? And that thought gives way to believing that because another thinks poorly of you that you must be just that. These thoughts are generally connecting to the feeling of shame. Shame wants us to believe that we are not enough, are too much or are an inherently bad person. Shame always connects with a negative “I AM” core belief.
If we operate from a shameful “I AM”, it is difficult to access feelings of hope. Hope is optimistic. Hope sees opportunity for improvement and change. Shame says “What’s the point, I am who I am so I might as well be that.” This is why Shame-Based approaches to behavior change or discipline are ineffective.
If the core belief about who we are is stuck feeling Ashamed, we stay stuck repeating the same patterns of thinking, feeling and doing. The latter, the doing, reinforces a false belief that this must be the truth about who we are. It’s living life on a Dread-mill.
Perhaps it is telling you a litany of things that you need to get done. Maybe it is telling you that you are never going to get all things done before the deadline? Maybe it is comparing your abilities, or lack thereof, with another person’s? “Sharon has it all together. She works full-time, has 3 kids, never misses her son’s soccer game, why can’t I be more like her?” Maybe the narrator is threatening you, telling you that you are never going to get that promotion, pass that test or work through the conflict in that relationship? The quality of these thoughts – very unhelpful. They all connect with feeling sad, lacking worth and lead us to…. you guessed it – Shame.
We often talk about improving one’s self-esteem as a solution to feeling better. How do you do that if your core beliefs are stuck in shame spiral? You can’t. Well, not in a sustainable way anyhow. We have to reduce or dismantle the power of shame in order to elevate esteem.
Esteem comes from inner narration that is affirming. The voice that is uplifting and empowering. The voice whose core beliefs connect with feelings of Love & Hope. When we connect with those feelings, the quality of our thoughts and actions change right along with them. If our core beliefs are, “I am person of worth and value. I am loveable and loving,” then we are going to reflect that in our thoughts and actions.
One of the ways we like to work with these parts is to first give them a name. Then create what they would look like if they were a tangible being, object or character. Then we play with these parts. We engage them in dialogue. Have them speak from the “I AM” perspective. This gives us incredible INSIGHT about the POORSIGHT they have been spouting off in our mind. We can do the same with the more encouraging voices, too.
The next step is to recognize when the part or the voice is talking. As soon as you notice tell yourself “That is the voice of _________ talking. They want to protect me, but I am not in need of their protection. CHANGE THOUGHT.” That last part of cueing your mind to CHANGE the thought is hugely valuable. You are telling your brain that you want to change these thoughts. The more you practice, the less intrusive the thoughts will be. The goal here is to get so good at catching them that we stop them before they finish the thought.
When meditating, when we notice the pesky thought we can do the same. Followed by connecting with the feelings of love, hope, gratitude or appreciation (which ever is most accessible) and imagine feeling that as a deeply and fully as possible. Breathe into it. Then think an “I AM” thought this is loving, kind, and empowering to yourself. For folks that think in images, it may helpful to visualize their empowered part saying these things. And watching as the unkind part becomes smaller and moves farther into the background, like watching the cars and buildings get smaller and smaller while looking out of an airplane window climbing into the clouds.
Another tool for dismantling core beliefs that are super sticky is to work with a therapist trained in using Eye-Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR). They will help release the old belief that may be stuck in your body (Yes, every cell in our body has memory in order to protect us) and integrate a new more empowered and loving belief so you can live a more joyful life.