Recently, I had a massage with a therapist I’d never met before. After I arranged myself facedown on her table, Denise (who is thankfully a petite woman) climbed aboard, sitting atop my backside with her knees digging into my glutes. Denise read my reaction, which was silence, as permission to push deeper, shifting her weight from side to side to accentuate the pressure on each cheek. “Wow,” she said. “You have a high pain threshold. Most people scream when I do this.” Later, she worked on my neck, shoulders and spine, then pressed her fingers into the top of my skull. It was then that she apparently determined that I was screaming…on the inside.
“Hmmm,” she murmured thoughtfully. “You might want to think about stopping all the yelling you’ve got going on inside your body.”
Did Denise possess some sort of X-ray hearing? Because while her assessment might seem nutty, she was exactly right: Denise had run smack into my inner banshee who was, as usual, roaring at the top of her lungs.
[pullquote]Mimi is more than a spewer of smack-talk. She’s an enemy capable of affecting every aspect of life, from mood to performance to personal relationships.[/pullquote]
Trained to sense energy and the forces that block it, Denise was able to feel and hear the noise humming through me. The truth is my internal Screaming Mimi rarely shuts up. She typically launches her first tirade upon waking as I catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. “Whoa, that’s some blotchy skin,” she begins. “Pretty paunchy tummy this morning. Had to have that second glass of wine last night, didn’t you?”
Mimi lobs her next grenade when I hit the gym: “Look at those women!” she bellows. “That one is stronger, that one is more flexible, that one is working so much harder than you!” The onslaught continues as I sit down to write: “Can’t you string together more than 1000 words? Will you ever write a novel or a screenplay or even a Modern Love column? So-and-so published a book and you’re smarter than she is. Maybe you’re not. One thing you definitely are is lazy.”
Mimi would be hoarse if she actually had a voice.
Many people I know struggle with this particular brand of dark energy. In the book Conquer Your Inner Critical Voice, clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone explains that this voice is an amalgamation of the negative thoughts that diminish our self-esteem.
Don’t I know it!
For me – and, I suspect, for many of the others I know who struggle with similar internal voices — Mimi is more than a spewer of smack-talk. She’s an enemy capable of affecting every aspect of life, from mood to performance to personal relationships.
So how did Mimi sneak into our respective heads? According to Dr. Firestone, if you have this loud, overly-critical inner voice, it’s probably been making itself at home in your head for decades. Some of us can trace it back to tough or judgmental parents. Others might be influenced by relationships with undermining siblings, unsupportive spouses or hyper-competitive friends. The media feeds Mimi as well, nourishing her vitriol with a steady diet of impossibly perfect faces and bodies to which she gleefully compares us.
The first step to neutralizing this voice is to understand where it comes from, which will help you recognize the criticisms for what they are — self-defeating, and in all likelihood, inaccurate. Here are four strategies for silencing this inner shrew,
1. Don’t let Mimi’s hostile assertions go unanswered. When that voice says you’re lazy or not creative, respond by writing out a list of the things you’ve accomplished in your life, both big and small. For me, that means I must stop focusing on what I haven’t yet achieved and allow myself to feel good about the thirty essays I published over the past year. When Mimi unfavorably compares my face or body to someone else’s, I remind her that my kids love my smile and my husband thinks I’m sexy. I try to focus on what is true and rational: Even though some woman at the gym can do a dozen pull-ups or bend herself into a pretzel, that doesn’t change the fact that I am strong and healthy, and that I have the discipline to show up every day.
2. Rather than trying to crush or ignore Mimi, enlist her help. Try to view Mimi as a tough-as-nails coach whose job it is to remind you that hard work and knowledge are essential for success. If I can transform her negative perspective into positive support, it might help me set and meet my goals. So I can say: “Hey, Mimi, any advice on succeeding today?” If the two of us share power for a while, it slowly becomes easier for me to stand up to her — and become more confident about kicking her out for good.
3. Be patient – this is really hard work. Even though evicting Mimi is healthy, the process can be nerve-wracking. After all, she’s been a squatter for years and although she’s a nuisance, she’s knows you as well as anyone. And you’re used to her. Be mindful that she might fight back once she realizes you’re on to her — that’s certainly happened to me. When you feel yourself suddenly mired in self-doubt or slipping from a good mood into a foul one, ask yourself if Mimi is at work. Remember, the more you act against her, the weaker her influence becomes.
4. Adopt a gentler approach to just about everything. I used to think my workout wasn’t worthwhile unless I was drenched with sweat and on the verge of vomiting. In my view, no massage was effective unless I was squirming in pain. A workday was a failure unless I was depleted from the stress of producing “enough.” But those attitudes haven’t served me and these days, I’m trying some new tactics: More yoga and stretching. More gentle touch. More quiet time. More forgiveness. Less Mimi.