Overcoming bad inner voices. We don’t often think about it, and may never discuss it with others at all but pretty much everyone has voices in their heads, a murmuring stream of thoughts that run along inside our minds most of the time. Sometimes, the inner voice is encouraging, calling for you to run those final few yards: “You’re nearly there. Keep going. Keep going!” or urging you to calm down because you know it will all be okay in the end. But sometimes, the inner voice is simply not very nice at all. It is defeatist, punitive, panic-ridden and humiliating. It doesn’t represent anything like our best insights or most mature capacities. It’s not the voice of our better nature. We find ourselves saying: “You disgust me,” or “It always turn to shit with you.” or “You useless little idiot!” Where do inner voices come from? An inner voice always used to be an outer voice. We absorb the tone of others. A harrassed or angry parent. The menacing threats of an elder sibling keen to put us down. The words of a schoolyard bully or teacher who seemed impossible to please. We internalized the unhelpful voices because in certain key moments in the past they sounded compelling. The authority figures repeated their messages over and over until they got lodged in our own way of thinking Part of achieving happiness in maturity involves altering our inner voices, which means encountering equally convincing and confident but also helpful and constructive varieties of voices over long periods and taking care to internalize them. They might be the voices of a friend, a therapist or an author. We need to hear them often enough and around tricky enough issues that they come to feel normal and natural responses so that eventually they come to feel like things we are saying to ourselves. They become our own thoughts. The best sort of inner voice speaks to us in a gentle, kind and unhurried way. It should feel as if a sympathetic arm would being put around our shoulder by someone who had lived long and seen a great many sad things but wasn’t embittered or panicked by them. In certain states of humiliation around work, in many of us, there is a mocking and contemptuous voice inside one’s head. It suggests that love, respect and kindness only ever come via worldly success and competence. Our failure. Not being able to make a public speech. Taking time to learn to drive a car. Not being specially brilliant at sales. Rightly debars us from love and appreciation. We need to incorporate a voice that separates out achievement from love that reminds us that we may be worthy of affection even if we fail and that being a winner is only one part and not necessarily the most important part of one’s identity. This is traditionally the voice of the mother but it might also be the voice of a lover, a poet we like, or a 9-year-old child chatting to his or her mom or dad about the stress at the office. It is the voice of a person who loves you for being you outside of achievement. Many of us grew up around nervous people. People who lost their tempers the moment the parking ticket couldn’t be found and who were knocked off course, by relatively minor administrative hurdles like the electricity bill. These people had no faith in themselves, and therefore, without necessarily wanting to do us harm, couldn’t have much faith in our own abilities either. Every time we faced an exam they got more alarmed than we did. They always asked multiple times if we had enough to wear when we went outside. They worried about our friends and our teachers, they were sure that holiday was going to turn into a disaster. Now these voices have become our own and cloud our capacity to take an accurate measurement of what we are capable of. We have internalised voices of irrational fear and fragility. At such moments, we need an alternative voice that can pause our runaway fears and remind us of the strength we have latent within us which the currents of panic have hidden from us. Our heads are large, cavernous spaces. They contain the voices of all the people we have ever known. We should learn to mute the unhelpful ones and focus on the voices we really need to guide us through the thickets of life. We humbly offer this voice as one of the more helpful ones we might take on board.