I am adding a sincere apology to well-meaning people who read this and feel bad
because they give "don't think of an elephant"-type advice.
I made a conscious choice when I posted it:
I knew it would hurt some people and I posted it anyway,
because many of the persons who receive advice like this are already hurting badly,
and this kind of advice piles new hurt on to the old hurt.
I found this exchange on Twitter today:
- I am completely useless, and so are words with no substance.
- Stop listening to that voice. She only tells lies. ;-)
I wish it were that simple, that we could just “stop listening” to our hateful inner voices. And I wish that such advice was “words with no substance”. I am sure this advice stems from a well-meant wish to be helpful, and in my opinion it is harmful for two reasons:
1) “Stop listening to that voice” is just as impossible as “don’t think of an elephant”. Impossible as in IT CANNOT BE DONE! A hateful inner voice is not a problem that can be solved by an act of will.
2) And when people believe that a hateful inner voice is a problem that can be solved with an act of will, the message they convey is that the hateful inner voice is not the problem, the real problem is that the owner of the voice won’t stop listening. And this message is the opposite of helpful: It strengthens the hateful inner voice that keeps hammering home the message that “everything else is OK, and you are useless”.
"Distressed people ... are supposed ...
to transform themselves into people no longer feeling distress."
David Smail coined "magical voluntarism" in a context of therapy: http://freudfri.blogspot.no/2014/05/david-smail-on-why-therapy-doesnt-work.html
And I am borrowing it to use in a context of advice that boils down to “DON’T THINK OF THE ELEPHANT”.
Has anyone ever, anywhere in the world, been able to stop listening to the seriously toxic voices that are brainwashed into some of us in childhood? Or in adulthood, for that matter?
In my experience, this kind of advice resembles advice on how to deal with compound leg fractures – from people who know what a twisted ankle feels like.
Or, sometimes, from people who themselves have seriously toxic inner voices, and seem to deal with them by constantly reminding others not to listen to toxic inner voices.
Instead of advice against voices that hate, I have words that have substance in my life:
You were not born knowing this about yourself.
Who taught you this?
Brainwashing you into believing hateful things about yourself is the responsibility of the persons who did it.
Dealing with it is your responsibility.
There are probably just as many ways of dealing as there are of cooking rice, and now I am only speaking for myself, of how I dealt with it: By seeing the hating inner voices as defences that I unconsciously evolved in order to survive childhood.
I don’t have time to write more, so I am pasting in a bit that begins with a hating inner voice and being manipulated to the brink of suicide by toxic therapy. The whole story is here:
… I planned to kill myself. Every day. In secret. Hiding how I felt had been a survival strategy in my childhood, and that helped me now.
But certain criteria had to be met:
· It had to look like an accident. I wanted to liberate my family and friends from me, not burden them with guilt.
· And I had to make sure that I died immediately. I couldn't risk surviving with permanent injuries that would burden others.
· And it shouldn't hurt. Not much. And I did not smile at this thought.
I don't remember much from this time, only that the parts of me that wanted to live became more and more concerned when I drove on the steep, winding roads where I live. And, one evening when I was alone, I got in touch with the part of me that wanted me dead. And I let her communicate. And promised not to stop her, not to sensor, just let her say all she had to say.
She began to write. Grunge. Detailed, poisonous grunge about me, about how evil, useless and stupid I was. Ugly, power-mad, fat, wrong, illogical, manipulating, wrong, wrong, stupid, wrong, too dumb to realize that I had no social skills and should not be allowed to interact with people, I should never have been born, I was an affront to all right-thinking people in the world ... and as I wrote, my writing became larger, sharper, and the pencil stabbed the paper like a knife in flesh.
And I began to recognize voices. Moods. Shades of people, some of the words. She wrote corroding concentrates of feedback others had given me. About me being wrong. And if I could just stop being wrong, everything would be OK, but as I couldn't, the world should not be burdened with me.
And when the part of me that wanted me dead finally was finished, we looked at it together. And I thanked her for what she had done for me when I needed her help to survive.
She had communicated and strengthened signals from my surroundings, so that I could try to avoid doing what people I needed did not like. And I explained that her help had been crucial then, but my life was different now. I was not helpless, not in the way I had been then.
And Inner Critic heaved an enormous sigh of relief and took a vacation.
This last sentence is both true and not ... there was an immense sense of relief at no longer being needed to help me survive; and I still have to communicate with Critic once in a while, to tell her what I need her help with.