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What if your inner voice is your worst enemy?

Feb 17, 2015

I love movie trailers. My wife doesn’t understand why I try to get to movies early. Sure, I could watch them all of these trailers on YouTube or iTunes. I just prefer to be surprised and intrigued by what a film could hold watching a two minute trailer on the massive screen.

When I saw the trailer for Inside Out, I knew it would be more than a “Redbox movie.” Based on what I saw in these two minutes and change, I knew it would be worth getting a babysitter and paying extra to see it in the theater. Check out the trailer here or watch below.

The premise of the film – a committee of sorts is inside your head processing events and making decisions – promises to be a connecting point for audiences. How many of us resonate with the idea that there are competing voices inside us, jockeying to be heard? How many of us have used embraced the metaphor of an angel sitting on one shoulder and a demon on the other, urging is in one direction or another? Pixar rarely pushes out a dud and I believe this film will be no different.

As funny as the premise seems, I think our experience with the voice(s) inside us is far from hilarious. It’s more tragedy than comedy. While we talk about that “inner voice” in terms of a conscience that helps us make decisions, another voice lives in our heads, evaluating our performance. It determines our value. It judges the level of optimism that is reasonable to hold regarding our future. If you were forced to tell the truth, how you describe your inner voice? Is it like Gordon Ramsey (harsh, critical and cutthroat)? Or is it more like Oprah Winfrey (positive, nurturing, and encouraging)? Mine doesn’t drop F-bombs when I cook a steak wrong, but it is much closer to Ramsey than Oprah

I’ve written the last couple weeks about what to do with our wounds and how to avoid obstacles to forgiving others. In response to those posts, one reader (and friend of mine) responded, “Any insight on how to forgive yourself, since that is so key to forgiving others?”

I instantly thought, “That’s worthy of a post all its own.”

While many of us have been wounded – deeply wounded – and struggle to forgive those who betrayed our trust, the greatest battle you may face is not forgiving someone else. The greatest battle many of us face is forgiving ourselves.

In response to my friend’s question, I’ve identified five words of wisdom I would share with you. They come from my experience, reading I’ve done and people I’ve served in ministry over the last 10 years. They are not prescriptions like a doctor would give. They’re more like the direction I’d pass along to someone who was visiting my hometown or going on a vacation to my favorite getaway spot. I hope they help you experience the gift of forgiveness you’ve started sharing with other people.

1. Identify the voice in your head.
Start listening for the voice in your head. The next time you succeed or when you fail, ask yourself, “what does the voice inside me like right now?” When you’re nervous or hesitant to try something new, there’s an inner narrative going on within you. Focus on that narrator. What is he or she saying? If we’re going to be able to forgive ourselves and understand why we do what we do, this first stage is key.

2. Establish whether the voice is helping you or holding you back.
I have a confession. I believe the voice inside most of us is holding us back. I believe most of us have a voice in our heads that’s mean, manipulative and destructive.

How do I know that I believe this? I apparently said so in a sermon several years ago and recently someone quoted me in repeating it! (Whenever people share with me what they heard me say in a sermon, I wonder, “What else have I said that I don’t remember saying?”) This friend’s recalled me asking the question, “Have you ever noticed the voice in your head hardly ever says anything nice?” While I don’t remember when I said it, I agree with myself here. Just as my friend shared with me the difference this question has made for her, if you can determine the impact of this voice in your life, your future will be positively impacted.

The voice in my head can be fairly harsh. When I’m nervous, when I make a decision out of fear, when I fail and disappoint others or myself, that voice is terrible. Truth be told, if that voice were embodied in a person, I strongly doubt they would be a close friend. I definitely would never go on a road trip with that person and they would not be allowed to babysit my kids. If your voice is like mine, it’s important to establish whether they’re holding you back or not. Honesty leads to freedom.

3. Avoid shame at all costs.
What is shame? According to Dr. Brené Brown, best-selling author and expert in the field of shame research, “shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” When we believe we are unworthy of love, we make dangerous choices.

If shame is your belief or experience, failure can crush you. Failure ceases being an event; it becomes your self-estimation, your identity. We must avoid shame and sideline the voices of shame in our lives. We often internalize the voices of shame around us as we accept their words as truthful or accurate about us. Shame is never helpful. I believe it is one of the biggest barriers to forgiving ourselves. If we believe we are flawed and, therefore, unworthy, we will struggle to accept forgiveness for our own mistakes. We must avoid shame.

4. Focus on internalizing grace.
Ask yourself the question, “What comes to mind for God when He thinks about me?” Spend some time reading through the Scriptures and determine if you’ve been confusing God’s voice with your father, other family member, a spiritual authority, mentor or coach. I’d encourage you to read passages like Psalm 139, Luke 15, John 21, and Romans 8.

Can I push you a little bit? Your standing with God never had anything to do with your performance. I was teaching a class last weekend in my church and was reminded of one of my favorite Scripture verses. In Romans 5:8, Paul writes, “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God loved you when you were running away from Him, not to Him. He moved toward us when we wanted nothing to do with Him. If you can focus on taking God’s grace and love and shifting them from a mental concept to an awareness or conviction within your heart, you can shift the narrative in your head.

5. Daily meditate on God’s unconditional love.
We are forgetful people. And it’s not because our smart phones are making us dumber, as some would have us think. Humanity has been forgetful from the beginning of time. Throughout the Bible, God called His people to engage in regular activities that would spark their memories about who He was, what He had done for them and who He was calling them to be. I believe this is why God created traditions for Israelites like Passover and Purim, and experiences like baptism and communion for followers of Jesus in the New Testament.

My wife had a professor in law school – a male professor. He shared with the class one day about his struggles with his body image and identity. He shared a daily habit he used to fight this battle. He stood in front of his full-length mirror at home, buck naked every day. Now, he wasn’t checking himself out, admiring his abs or his biceps. Remember, he was someone who had struggled with body image and insecurity for years. He spent time every day looking at his reflection, stating something to the effect of “I am lovable. I am worthy. God made me and called me very good.” It became a spiritual discipline of sorts of him. This story has always stuck with me.

Our memory – like this professor’s – leaks like an old cup. We must constantly refill it. Meditating on God’s unconditional love involves retelling ourselves the Gospel story, which as one pastor said involves trusting that “God knows us better than anyone. He knows all your secrets and loves you unconditionally.”

Our memory leaks like an old cup. We must constantly refill it.

The voice in your head may not only be not nice. In fact, it could be derailing your good-intentioned efforts to forgive yourself. My inner voice tried to tell me to stop writing this post several times. It told me no one would read it. No one would share it. No one would comment on it. No one would care. But I kept writing it anyway because that voice is the voice of shame and resistance.

To my friend and others who struggle to forgive yourselves, I hope these five words of wisdom have helped you. Forgiveness is far more art than science. It’s not easy and if you struggle, you’re not alone. You can silence that inner voice by acting with courage and believing in a different story than the one you’re currently hearing.

How are you struggling with shame currently? Where do you battle this inner voice in your life?

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