As a human, you likely miscommunicate with yourself on a regular basis. You send yourself unhelpful messages in the form of negative self-talk or downward spirals of doubt. Or, you hear messages from others, internalize them, and repeat them to yourself. To activate your inner life and hone your awareness of your own feelings and values, you need to detach yourself from these kinds of messages, the kind that can end up dictating the patterns of your days.
These communication patterns can be difficult to deal with, though, as they swirl around internally but are not feelings in and of themselves. They may have become habit and like other other habits you have likely inherited or adopted, it takes a series of actions to break them: first, being aware of the thing you’re doing repeatedly; second, noticing how it makes you feel; and third, choosing a new pattern that could produce a different emotional effect. Limiting your inner noise by unfriending the following two voices from your self-talk is an essential step toward accessing your feelings.
1. "I'm Not Good Enough" (aka INGE)
Many people hear a voice that says, “I’m Not Good Enough.” You receive a new assignment at work that will push you beyond your past experience. Your partner tells you he is anxious about finances, and you haven’t paid much attention to your budget recently. You personalize the circumstances and start a particular(ly harmful) form of miscommunication: a voice I call “INGE.”
You could follow that thought, to theoretically find the root of this belief that you misplaced on yourself. You could try to understand INGE to make her go away. Another method is to replace the ‘negative’ thought with one you imagine to be more ‘positive.’ Instead of these tried-but-not-necessarily-true methods, sit and watch INGE as you would watch any other thought in mindfulness meditation. By choosing this internal action, you will deprioritize INGE. Instead of reinforcing the voice telling you that you are not good enough by virtue of its playing on repeat, INGE will lose her power when you simply notice she’s on autopilot and not speaking the truth. When you take notice of INGE, it is possible to let her go. You get to put INGE in her place through simple observation.
2. Turning Against Myself (aka TAM)
Adults experience pulls toward what they want and need, but sometimes, even when these senses are strong and clear, judge those desires harshly or disregard them entirely. “I want more responsibility at work, but maybe this would be too stressful or I might not be ready for it.” “I need a partner who can emotionally engage with me, but this person I’ve been dating is nice and nothing is terribly wrong.” This is what I call “Turning Against Myself,” or “TAM.”
TAM can manifest through seemingly small choices, like agreeing to go out for drinks with an acquaintance who usually bails when you’ve worked a long day and know you need to get up in the morning. It can also show up through breathtakingly impactful choices, like marrying someone because you’re afraid of what the alternative looks like. Just as with INGE, sit down with TAM and see what happens. Maybe TAM will stop turning against you, settle down, and chill out.
How to Unfriend INGE and TAM
Internal action doesn’t have to involve physical action and can be very simple. In fact, the act of stillness can often be the missing link between you and your feelings—which often hide under the distracting voices of INGE and TAM. Try any activity you know helps you be gentler with yourself. Take 10 minutes to sit by yourself and breathe, one hand on your heart, the other on your belly; soften both areas as you inhale and exhale. Or try taking a walk without your phone. Notice whether INGE or TAM join you, how they behave once you acknowledge them, how long they stick around for, and when they come back. No matter your method, practice patience with yourself as you unfriend INGE and TAM. Observe whether they are disempowered by your internal actions, even the simple act of stillness.
About Our Expert
Laura Riley is a writer, yoga teacher, and social justice attorney based in Los Angeles. This article is adapted from her manuscript Internal Activism.