The Road to Reconciliation: Understand the People of the Mind

As if it wasn’t hard enough to deal with the people who hurt you, you also have to deal with their representatives you carry around in your head. Actual people you can divorce, send to jail, move across the country and never see again; the people of the mind follow you, they share your bed despite divorce. Regardless of orders of protection, they dog your footsteps, day and night. It’s imperative you find a way to cope with these imaginary people or they will do you more harm than the real ones ever could.

You’ve heard the things these imaginary people say to you: You’re never going to amount to much… You’re just a slut… You’re a failure…. No one is ever going to want to be with you. No, they weren’t actual voices that you can hear. They’re thoughts, but thoughts are as persuasive as voices. These words may have originally come directly from the actual person. It’s like you have a tape somewhere, playing them over and over again. You worry that you might be going crazy, except that everyone has these inner critics.

You’ve tried to argue with these voices, prove them wrong. You’ve written positive affirmations, taped them to your bathroom mirror, and repeated them fourteen times a day. Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better. I will be successful. I’m a loving, committed partner. Everyone wants to be with me. You think this will help, but it doesn’t. The niggling nabobs of negativity natter all night, nonetheless.

At the risk of adding my voice to theirs, you’re doing it wrong. This isn’t the way you handle an inner critic. You’d be happier if you trained it to be better at its job.

We all need the capacity for self criticism. A good inner critic can stop you from committing many foolish things. It’ll halt you from saying that impolitic thing you were going to say. It’ll make sure your fly is zipped when you leave the men’s room. It’ll help you pick out the perfect outfit. It’ll hone your performance so that every day, whatever you do, you’ll do it better and better; not because you say so, but because you’re learning from your mistakes. A good inner critic is like a personal trainer, a portable therapist, a life coach, and a father confessor, all rolled into one. You should thank your stars you have an inner critic. It might save you from public humiliation. But, you need a good one.

You can train your inner critic to get better at its job by replying to all its statements with a single word question: Because…?

So, let’s take the things inner critics say to people and try out this method on them.

“You’re never going to amount to much.”

“Because…?”

”You’re just a slut.”

“Because…?”

“You’re a failure.”

“Because…?”

“No one is ever going to want to be with you.”

“Because…?”

If the inner critic is able to complete the sentence and tell you why you’re never going to amount to much, etc, then you’ve got some information you can use. For instance, if it says you’re never going to amount to much because you spend so much time playing video games, then that’s an intelligent point of view you should consider. Maybe it’s right. Maybe it’s wrong, but, at least you can reason with it. When the inner voice doesn’t do anything more than pronounce that you’re a loser, then it’s no different than those bullies who called you names on the playground. Their words are hollow, their arguments specious. You can dismiss their claims because they have nothing to back them up.

When you challenge the inner critic to give evidence and it follows through, then you turn the critic into a trusted advisor who gives you something you can use. It becomes a consultant who is more than just a yes man. If the inner critic doesn’t follow though and provide any evidence for its point of view, then it’s not a true inner critic; it’s an inner bully.

It’s important to understand who these people of the mind are and what they are doing there. In the same way that a meteorologist will program a simulated climate into a computer, you set the people of the mind up to match the actual world. Then you run different scenarios. They are your creations. There should be a strong resemblance; but they are not the people they represent and they are not you.

For example, probably everyone has an inner father. When you were a child it was in your interest to be able to predict what your father would do in a given circumstance. If you thought about swiping a cookie, you needed to know whether he would smile, yell, or beat you with a leather strap. So, you constructed an imaginary character you called your father, based on your father. The more accurate a representation of him it was, the more useful this construct could be. This inner father is not your father, it’s a simulation of your father; but, if you are a good author, it would be a damn good simulation.

You would also have to give these simulations free will in the same way that you might program a computer to make its own decisions based on preordained factors. The inner person has to be able to operate on its own, without too much input from you. It does you no good to hand a script to your inner father and tell it how to respond when you swipe a cookie; you need to know how it would respond so it can tell you how your real father would. This is how come these people of the mind seem to have a will of their own. You give it to them so their behavior can be like the free will behavior of actual people.

The simulations also have to go on running when the actual person is not around. Just because your father has left the room, it doesn’t mean you don’t need the simulation. You need to know how he would respond to the missing cookie when he returns. Just because you haven’t seen the actual person in months, doesn’t mean you won’t see him again. Just because he’s dead and buried, doesn’t mean you won’t come across people like him someday. This is why it’s often not good to dismiss a person of the mind. You might need it again.

These simulations get repurposed when we come across someone new who somehow resembles them. When you meet a new boss, for instance, you may use the model of your father upon which to construct a new model of your boss because they both have something in common: they are important, powerful males in your life. This way, if something comes up in which you don’t know how your boss will respond, you run the contingency through the father program, so at least you have something to go on. You may easily get confused, though, about who you’re dealing with. Many assumptions about your boss may come from what you have come to expect with your father.

You can see that you can easily get confused about who these people of the mind are. You may confuse the inner person with the actual person. You may think you know them when you don’t. If you do confuse them, then that’s because you’re a good author and have developed rich, well-drawn characters who seem real.

These people of the mind do more than give you models for how actual other people may behave. They also help you work out how you will behave. They help you play with possibilities to see how they might turn out. Before you swiped that cookie, you imagined yourself swiping that cookie. You worked out how to move the chair and reach the top of the cupboard without your father hearing you. You debated whether you should drag the chair or pick it up. You told yourself, if you drag the chair, it’ll rub on the floor and make a sound. That was an inner critic. It said, “Quiet, you’ll be too noisy.”

You can thank your inner critic for helping you steal that cookie.

The construction of inner representations of yourself has to follow the same rules that apply to constructions of other people. The simulation of yourself has to be an accurate representation of how you could be in the real world. It has to know whether you are strong enough to pick up the chair, for instance. The simulation of yourself also has to seem to have a will of its own so you can accurately project how it will behave. The simulation of yourself also has to persist over time, so that you can build on past failures and successes. It can also be confused with your actual self, so that you can’t tell the difference.

You can hear this confusion when you talk. You say, “I keep telling myself I’m a loser, a slut, and no one will ever want to be with me.”

No, that’s not you saying that. It’s your inner critic: a character of your own creation set up to resemble you or an important person in your world. If you confuse this character with you, then you did a good job creating it; but it’s not you. You are the creator. You are the person directing, watching, and listening to the show.

In summary, this is how you deal with the people of the mind: You act like the creator of this inner world, which you are. You put them to the use they were intended. You realize that you are to them as the figure of God is to His creation. You are the Almighty and, if you want, you can cast them into Hell where they cry and gnash their teeth; or you can extend grace, mercy, and redemption to a broken inner world that matches the broken actual world.