Wherever You Go...There You Are

It's always there--skulking around in the shadows of our subconsciousness. We can't escape it. Heck, we can't even go to the bathroom or take a shower without it. It's that voice.  Who is it? What is it? Where did it come from? Is the voice inside your head driving you crazy?  Is it telling you you're stupid?  Too fat?  Too skinny? Too lazy?  Too mean?  Too nice?  Too messy? Too weak?  Too sinful?  Ok, so we're always sinning to some degree. However, if the voice in your head is anything like mine, it gets delicious delight in reminding you of your "sinfulness" every minute of every day.  When I hit 40, I started taking steps to silence it--or go crazy.

Writer Martha Beck calls this voice "an imaginary audience" and "your everybody committee" (O Magazine, 2013, p. 54).  She explains how we operate under this "constant scrutiny." If you, dear readers, have (for the most part) an affirming inner voice, lucky you!  If not, there's hope! How?  Beck suggests we "learn to become indifferent to it." She argues that our inner voice is actually "based on a mental magnification of just a few people, often the most judgmental people you know."  How loud is your Everybody Committee? Here's how to test it:

Complete each of the following sentences with the first thing that pops into your mind:

"Everyone wants me to______________"

"Everyone thinks I'm ______________"

"Everyone expects me to ___________"

"Everyone's always telling me _______"

"The Hostage" by Edmund Blair

Now, for each sentence, think of real people who have told you--not indirectly or by implication, but in so many words--that they hold the thoughts and opinions you just listed. These people are part of your Everybody Committee. I believe most of us have very small committees--often just one individual, almost never more than six.Yet we subconsciously project their opinions onto the entire global population (p. 56). 

Beck says we often fear our Everybody Committee's potential judgment. Where did this inner voice or Everybody Committee come from? How and why did we give it/them so much power in our lives? Surely, our childhood vulnerability seeds and ferments our inner voice--in the form of parents, siblings, extended family, friends, teachers, and bullies. Unfortunately, the bullies can be any or all of the above. Beck says:

We tend to give the best seats to the cruelest people--people who hurt our feelings and undermine our dreams.  To avoid attacks...we obsess about living up to their standards.  This is a terrible way to live. What stinks about having the wrong Everybody Committee: Much of my life has been dominated by Everybody Committees that were totally misaligned with my true self.  As a result, I did things that held no joy for me, never felt I was good enough, and believed that if people knew who I really was, they'd hate me.  Each time I've chosen to live more authentically, I've been roundly rejected by my Everybody Committees (p. 56).

Who are your Everybody Committees? Here's a few of mine: My "Not-Perfect-Enough-Mormon-Committee" (Forever guilting me, it loves to ask: "How perfect are you as a wife and mom?  How perfect is your marriage? How perfect are you in your church calling?  How perfect are your children, your home, your time management, your family history, food supply?"...and on and on and on). Then there's my "School Committee" (My students think me incompetent, I don't assess their needs enough.), my "Family Committee" (I'm a bad wife and mom; I don't do enough for my kids). But here's the thing: My Everybody Committees NEVER tell me that I do anything well or right. Beck further claims that even non-conformists conform to their Everybody Committees: "If you consider yourself a rebellious nonconformist, you continually refer to your committee so you can be sure to shock them. (Can you say 'irony'?)" Ready to give these guys the boot?! First, realize their presence and power.

Firing Our Everybody Committees

Getting rid of these negative voices takes time and practice. I'm in my mid-50's and still working on it.  I knew I was finally getting a handle on my "School Committee" a few months ago. At the end of every semester, students write anonymous evaluations (we call them SOTES for Student Opinion Teacher Evaluation Surveys) where students can say anything they want regarding the performance of each of their professors. I always feel a considerable amount of anxiety and hold my breath while reading my SOTES. I have a tendency to gloss over the positive comments and zero in on the negative ones. Last semester, one student accidentally wrote his name at the top of his SOTE; thus, he was unaware I would connect him to his comments.  A college athlete, he had asked me to allow him to do make-up work and extra credit assignments. I tried to be fair and allowed him some leeway.  He ended up getting a "B" in my class--even though he wanted an "A." Angry about his grade, he wrote that I was "unfair and also sexist and favored the girls in the class." Furthermore, he told me to "learn how to teach." His outrageous comments caused me to laugh out loud. Me...laughing at someone's cruelty toward me!! That's when I knew my "Everybody Committee" was losing its toxic grip on me. I was overjoyed!

Martha Beck further advises:

Figure out which members of your current committee are working against you. Refer to the negative judgments that haunt you--and write the names of people who've expressed those judgments. [Next], write the names of anyone who'd judge you harshly if they knew your darkest secret or your heart's desires or what you look like naked.  Do not list groups, only individuals. Dealing with actual data, instead of your generalizations, is they key to making this work. [Now], these people no longer get seats on your Everybody Committee. Mentally hand them their pink slips and explain that you're heading in another direction. You may already have someone on your Everybody Committee who loves you absolutely unconditionally...appoint that person chair of your committee...I'm talking about a loving presence that wants nothing buy your happiness (p. 56).

I made the conscious choice to appoint Jesus Christ as the chair of my Everybody Committee. His judgment and approval is what I seek. He guards my heart and mind to prevent my old vicious Everybody Committee from taking over. Nobody is more powerful, more wise, or more loving than He is. He tells me the truth about myself but not in a mean, cruel way.

What's your inner voice telling you?