Everyone’s got one. An inner critic. The downer. The inner negative voice. The bad friend in your head that you can’t get rid of.
I used to listen to the negative voice all the time. He’s always there, even when I ignore him. He’s always telling me what to do. Or, rather, what not to do. Which is whatever I’m doing, or planning on doing, at the moment. If I am planning on going for a run, for example, the negative voice kicks in with all the reasons I shouldn’t run.
“It’s too cold.”
“It’s too hot.”
“You’ll injure yourself.”
“You look stupid and fat in these clothes.”
“You need new shoes.”
…and on and on, an endless loop of negativity. Don’t do this now. Sit down. Tune out.
Way back before I started exercising regularly, I didn’t even notice the negative voice. I just gave in to his demands and assumed I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do anything else. He wasn’t negative; he was just the voice in my head. He was the people who would point and laugh at me for trying and not doing it perfectly. Of course, in my life, there have been few actual point-and-laughers, though the few I remember have had an effect far out of proportion to their actual importance.
When I finally started exercising, it was in response to the stress of dealing with my parents; mom’s cancer, dad’s drinking and affair, and both of their expectations for me. I found an apartment that I could afford, was working a temp job, and looking for permanent work. The apartment was in a great neighborhood, although the building itself wasn’t very posh and the neighbors were sketchy. But there was a gym just two blocks away, and my friend at the time, Jake, was almost spectacularly active, so I figured I would try working out as a way to relieve stress.
And I began to notice, and began to identify, that voice in the back of my head as toxic.
He sounded like my father, sometimes. He sounded like my mom at other times. Or like Kelly, the bully in high school who actually made fun and laughed at the way I put on my underwear after gym class. Or like the group of older girls in the library when I was in 3rd grade who asked me if I was new and laughed amongst themselves.
Even as I stood there on the elliptical trainer, working away, sweating, feeling better by the moment, he was talking to me, telling me to slow down, that that was more than enough, that I should go now, that people were staring at me, that my fat belly was jiggling, that I was making too much noise, that my heart was going to explode.
Sometimes I gave in.
But more and more often, I just ignored him.
One day, I can remember this quite clearly, as I was walking the two blocks to the gym, I was listening to some music, and of course he was trying to shame me into not going. I responded to him. “Fuck you!”
I said it out loud, although not very loud. Loud enough for me to hear it over the music in my headphones. Loud enough that I immediately worried that if someone heard me they’d think I was crazy. Or maybe that worry was him?
I thought back at him, “Fuck you. I am doing this. Fuck off, you fucking fuck. You don’t get a vote.”
And, briefly, the voice quieted down to just a feeling. A nagging, I don’t wanna feeling. While I still felt that, I mentally shouted “Fuck you!” over and over while I kept walking to the gym, while I said hi to Noel, the owner, and walked up to the machine I wanted to use by the window, and got on and started running.
It may not be the most positive way to deal, but that’s how I manage the inner negative voice. I notice him, I tell him to fuck off, and I keep doing what I want to do. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve worked out and felt great afterward, it doesn’t seem to matter how much positive feedback I get from friends and strangers, he’s always there. Sometimes he’s quieter, but he’s always there.
If anyone knows a way, short of heavy medication, to make him go away for good, I’d be all ears. I just assume he’s part of me, though, and try to reinforce the idea that I don’t have to listen to him or do what he wants.
Sadly, I still have trouble noticing him when he’s blocking me in other areas of my life; social situations, work, friendships and family. Oh, man, family brings him out like nothing else does. I need a lot of work in that area, for sure. What’s that they say about why it’s so easy for your parents to push their buttons? Oh, right, it’s because they installed them.
I’m a work in progress, of course.
What tips do you have for dealing with the inner negative voice? Who does yours sound like? What’s he/she preventing you from doing?