How To Recover From A Traumatic Birth: Part 3 - Challenge That Little Voice Inside Your Head
So, this is about listening to that little critical voice in your head and paying attention to what it’s saying.
Just to add, that while I'm calling it an inner critical voice, we don't all hear it as a voice. Some of us see pictures or strings of random thoughts, sometimes we narrate our lived experiences and identify how we feel about them as a series of sensory memories of things we've seen, heard, smelt, tasted or touched.
We all have at least one little voice in our head; sometimes it’s just narrating our experiences, sometimes it’s doing a Jiminy Cricket thing as our conscience and sometimes it gets very critical and destructive.
If your voice is critical and destructive, it’s probably saying things, or making you feel, like this:
“For God’s sake, pull yourself together. I'm not the only person who had a bad birth. Lots of people had it far worse. Why am I so weak and pathetic?”
“What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just pop babies out like other people?”
“I can’t cope. I should never have had any children. I’m just a shit parent?”
“They’d be better off without a parent like me.”
“It’s not fair. My friend just had the loveliest birth. I’m really happy for her but why couldn’t that be me?”
“What’s wrong with me?”
These are all shaming statements. The thing about shame is that the root of it sits in words like:
“I’m not worthy”
“I’m not good enough.”
“I’m just not enough of anything”.
Brené Brown has a great deal to say about shame and blame here:
When we look at birth trauma there are two main things going on:
The primary one is that the experience of the event has been processed by the brain in such a way that it remains in the present. Usually, we commit our experiences to memory, they rapidly become our past experiences. This enables us to retrieve those memories and remember them without actually reliving them.
But traumatic experiences remain in the here and now and we, quite literally, relive them whenever we are triggered to do so. Some triggers are obvious to us like driving past the hospital where we gave birth; other triggers are so subtle we’re not sure what the trigger is but we relive the experience anyway. Often all this manifests as anxiety, hypervigilance and panic attacks.
Then the second part is that when this happens we blame and shame ourselves for not being able to cope, for allowing it to distress us so much, for being weak, flawed and ‘not good enough’.
In turn, this can be driven by the fear of judgement from others. We fear others will see us not coping, see our weakness, our flaws and we fear their disapproval and rejection.
As Brene Brown points out in her video, humans are wired for connection with other humans. As a species, we do not survive well in isolation, so to be connected to other humans, especially those who love and value us, is a very deep-rooted psychological and emotional need.
But now shame is driving us to hide the trauma we experienced to the point we don't even wait for anyone else to judge us for not coping with what happened. Instead, that little voice in our head starts up with its disapproving and shaming words and saves anyone else the trouble. By the time it's finished it's done a much better job at making us feel more worthless, useless and not enough than any other person we know ever could. It's like we take a metaphorical knife and stick it in our own back to save someone else the bother.
Weirdly, this is a self-protective mechanism that's gone way too far. We tell ourselves:
I'm not coping and I'm terrified someone will see that and reject me, so I'll prepare myself for that inevitable rejection by telling myself what an awful, weak, pathetic person I am, then when it happens for real, it won't feel so bad.
You can see how illogical this thinking is, right? Rejection always hurts.
But then, emotions have no logic, and every human falls into this pattern of thinking at some point in their life.
The real issue is 'how do I make this little voice stop, especially when its constant whispering torments me morning, noon and night?'
I'll be honest, it's not easy but it can be done. It's not easy because we listen to our inner critical voices mostly in a very unconscious way. Usually, we take as much notice of an inner voice as we do a radio playing in the background. We absorb what it says without really noticing what we're doing. But when it gets loud and destructively critical, we can't find a way to stop hearing it.
The solution is deceptively simple; stop listening.
But doing that is hard work that requires practice.
Here's a simple technique to start you off that I've adapted slightly from Steve Andreas who was a Neuro-linguistic Programming master. Now, NLP isn't therapy, but I find these little techniques work like a charm providing you keep practising. It's so much easier to think straight when this critical voice is quiet.
1. Close your eyes and tune in to your inner critical voice. Just notice for a moment what it's saying, and how loud or quiet it is. Is it shouting? Is it whispering? Is its tone nasty? Does it sound like it's trying to be helpful but really it's still criticising you?
2. Now imagine that voice as a little ball, see it in your mind's eye and make the ball any colour you want.
3. Notice the ball; is it big? Is it small? Where is it in relation to you? Is it in front of you? To the side of you? High up? Low down? Notice where it is in your mind's eye?
4. Now push the ball away from you. You can push it gently, throw it forcefully, roll it, kick it, whatever you want.
Watch it as it gets smaller and smaller the further away it goes. As it goes further away, the voice fades out too.
Push the ball away until you can't hear the voice at all.
5. Enjoy the silence.
If the voice comes back, push it away again. It will give up eventually.
The key to making this work is repetition. The more you do this, the more your brain associates the visualisation with blissful peace and quiet in your head.