(This was written because I was recently reminded of how lonely and terrifying it can be to not feel in control of your own internal monologue. It’s not something I have talked about with many people, but on the off-chance it might be helpful, I thought I’d give it a go)
Getting me to stop talking is an uphill battle. Nigh-on impossible, in fact. Unfortunate given that my voice has a tendency to get horribly high-pitched and excessively loud. Once upon a time, I had a pretty powerful, smokey-sounding voice which invariably commanded assent. The only problem was it was inside my head, and no one else could hear it.
It’s terrifying having an enemy behind the lines, to be filled with self-distrust and to feel utterly vulnerable. When the thing you fear most is quite literally under your skin, there truly is nowhere to hide. And you can imagine what picturing ‘escape’ would look like. The voice in my head was pretty bent on destruction: it told me that the ones I loved were liars and that if I chose hazelnut Options hot chocolate (33 calories) over vanilla (31 calories), then I was a fundamentally horrendous individual who needed some grizzly sort of punishment. It sounds ridiculous now, like I could never have really believed it. But I did. And I am endlessly grateful that God released me from those particular demons.
For me, I found it helpful to externalise the voices that I didn’t want to embed themselves within me. So I opened up to my mum in a very real way, and I thank God that she was able to bear the ugliness. Once I was able to approach the voices with even a smidgen of scepticsm, she helped me to see the untruths for what they really were. And slowly that creeping doubt that maybe they weren’t omniscient became an arsenal of reassurances to fire back at them. I think it takes a lot of bravery on the part of both speaker and listener: admitting some of your darkest internal processes is always going to be difficult, and even more so when they appear so autonomous and unpredictable. If you didn’t reach them through self-conscious logical processes, then you’re always going to be admitting to weakness and a lack of control. And you’re asking for help, knowing that it might be swept away, however much you want to grasp onto it. The listener though has to be able to suspend identifying that person with some of the thoughts they articulate. The voices are added extras, and the last thing I know I wanted was to have anything to do with what they had to say. It would have broken my heart for my mum to confuse me and them.
Ultimately, the safest place of all to vent those thoughts that you suspect don’t really belong to your inner monologue, is in prayer. The fact that there is nothing too abhorrent which the power of HIS voice, HIS love cannot overcome, is quite mind-blowing, especially if you know what it feels to have a colonised mind with no weapons to free yourself. It was God’s voice that created in the first place, and it was ‘the Word’ that made itself flesh to come and save. When God speaks, His word triumphs.
Isaiah 40:8 “The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the Lord blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.”
1 Peter 1:23 “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”
Even if you don’t suffer with a diagnosed mental illness which raises these issues, I think everyone has thoughts that they feel less in control of than others. Such is advertising, such is peer-pressure; it’s all a way of manipulating how you see and interpret the world. You were not born attaching moral qualities to food, thinking that some were ‘naughty’ and should be consumed only with sassiness or self-loathing. You were not born thinking that certain experiences would add up to a life fulfilled, or inevitably give you social gravitas. Sometimes ‘I really should…’s are followed by wisdom; but sometimes, they’re voices that are unthinking absorptions of that ever vaguely defined, often demonised, ‘culture’. It runs off the tongue and gives a sense of legitimacy and authority to our actions. ‘I really should work’, ‘I really shouldn’t have the last brownie’, and ta-da, a moral high-ground. Reassuring. And yet distancing from God.
‘Should’ according to whom?
‘Should’ verges on legalism- it’s something to be infringed and to repent of. And if the ‘should’ does not come from God, then we set up for ourselves another authority and one which only offers stern, guilting looks. Those voices bind and trap, suffocating any sense of self. God’s Word, by contrast, is sacrificial, and ever-loving. His Word is truth, and the truth will set you free. It’s okay to find yourself wrestling with it: reading a bible verse isn’t a simple 3-second fix-it. Retuning our ears and softening our hearts is never easy, and often painful.
Matthew 26: 37-40: “He [Jesus] took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
But I think inviting God’s voice in is a beautiful first step, and one He would be so happy to answer.
(and if you feel that there are no human ears around that would be willing to listen, I’d love you to drop me a line: my email is on the About Me-y bit)