“The Mean Voice” – Facts vs Feelings

“You get to write about thinking feelings are facts,” Emma typed this morning.  Then she smiled at me, got up, and walked away.

Eight months into this whole homeschooling thing and I’m just now starting to figure out how I can work this blog into our busy schedule.  Emma wrote the other day that she would write a blog post once a week or, she thoughtfully added, “suggest topic for you to write about.”  Then last week she wondered if she might ask questions that she hoped readers would want to respond to.  The first of that series with all the wonderfully considerate, insightful and thoughtful comments and answers to her questions from readers, can be read ‘here.’

My goal is to carve out time Tuesday and Thursday to post something on this blog.  Only time will show how well I do with this goal.

But for today, Emma has given me an assignment.  “You get to write about thinking feelings are facts.”  When she typed this sentence I immediately thought of “the mean voice.” This is the voice in my head whose sole purpose seems to be to give a running critique of everything I’m doing and why it’s all wrong.  The Voice is harsh and can be very, very cruel.  It will say things to me that I would never say aloud to another human being, no matter how angry I might be.  The Voice feels real, it says things in a matter-of-fact way that makes me think the words it is saying are true.  When I believe The Voice all joy is deleted.  Any glimmer of hope is snuffed out.  The Voice tells me I suck and whatever I’m doing sucks.

But I’ve come to understand that The Voice is not to be listened to, which is easier thought than done.  It does not tell me the truth, it is mean and it says things that are not based in fact.  I call it “The Voice” but in fact, it is fear.  It is hopelessness.  It is anger.  It is a whole medley of emotions, some of which I cannot even identify or untangle to identify.  The Voice is feelings and it is most certainly not “fact”.

Feelings are not facts.  Feelings are not facts.  This is something someone said to me early on in my addiction recovery.   It was one of those “slogans” that at the time made no sense to me.  Well of course feelings aren’t facts, I remember thinking to myself.  Anyone knows that.   They’re feelings.  But what I didn’t know then and what I still forget now, is that when I’m upset or scared or angry, the conclusions I come to as a result of having those feelings are also not facts.  They are feelings and the two are very, very different.

So for example, if I’m afraid to do something that I really want to do, like write this book that Emma and I are working on together, I feel tremendous fear.   The Voice kicks in and will say things like, “What the hell are you doing?  Why are you even trying to do this?  The last thing the world needs is a book written, even co-written by you.  Who are you to write about your experience with this?  Who do you think you are?  No one wants to read what you think.  You think this will be helpful to someone else?  What kind of narcissistic, self-involved crap is that?  You can’t do this.  You suck.”  If that doesn’t stop me in my tracks The Voice amps it up a notch and gets even more vicious.

People have suggested imagining a volume control dial and mentally visualizing turning the volume down.  Others have suggested saying, Thank you for your thoughts and then doing the thing I’m terrified of doing anyway.  Others have said – just don’t listen to it or don’t believe it.  But none of that has had much impact or made a difference.  Logically I know this voice isn’t real.  It’s in my head.  I know it isn’t some divine, all-knowing voice.  I know it is mean.  I know all these things, but when the emotions come it is like being pulled under and the energy it takes to keep my head above the water, the energy it takes to just breathe is exhausting and sometimes, most of the time, I don’t feel able to fight it.

When I was an active addict The Voice told me to go and eat.  Go ahead it would say.  Oh go on, you deserve it, The Voice would encourage.  You’ve had a tough day, give yourself a treat, eat a dozen doughnuts.  If I fought it, it only got louder and more insistent.  Oh go on, GO ON!  And I would.  I couldn’t refuse.  I felt out of control and helpless.  I felt unable to stop.  Now, almost two decades later, I know to “out” that particular voice.  I know to tell on it.  The Voice doesn’t like that.  And saying to another human being who understands, who can identify, who can say – oh yeah…  wow, I so get that – is often all it takes now to give me that moment of grace so that I can pull away and not do that thing that will hurt me, the thing that it’s telling me to do.

While The Voice is usually no longer the boss of me when it comes to food and compulsive over-eating, it has never completely gone away.  It crops up when I least expect it.  It tells me things about myself that make me feel awful.  It makes me believe it’s telling me THE TRUTH.  I’m fifty four years old and I still find myself believing The Voice, not about food and eating, but about other things, healthy things I want to do or accomplish.  There’s another slogan used in addiction recovery – Progress not perfection.  And I am making progress, but it is very, very slow.  And to be honest, far slower than I’d like.  But then if I gauge myself from where I once was, the progress has been nothing short of miraculous, so maybe the next post will be about – progress, not perfection!  Unless Emma has another idea, that is…

I’m turning Emma’s topic over to all of you – “…write about thinking feelings are facts.”

The Mean Voice

The Mean Voice

33 responses to ““The Mean Voice” – Facts vs Feelings

  1. Who in your life has spoken to you like this “voice”? If there is an actual person, what is your relationship with that person like right now? Sometimes just knowing the answer to these two questions can be quite freeing. If there is no actual person that you can think of, or even if there is, you can counteract the voice, by creating a list of at least 10 true good things about yourself. They should be voiced out loud in the first person and should completely focus on your strengths. For example; “I am beautiful inside and out. I am caring, thoughtful and kind. I am a child of God with infinite potential, I am learning and growing all the time.” etc. Say them aloud at least once a day and memorize them for times when the voice tries to take over. You can out shout the negative voice in your mind with true thoughts about your true self that are positive and uplifting. Give it a try if you like. You may find that the voice actually disappears. Wishing you every happiness in your beautiful work with Emma. Write your book and don’t let anything discourage you. I’m looking forward to reading it!

  2. This is my depression to a T. And yes, I have had actual people speak to me with this voice. I have it in writing. It’s very very very difficult to convince the Voice it isn’t real when actual “human beings” tell these things to my face. And people with programming like mine cannot do “positive thinking” or “Afffirmations”. Because we know we are lying to ourselves. What I *can* do is tell myself I am working to the best of my ability to be able to work at my best ability. This is a thing I know, regardless of what the Voice tells me.

    • You see when I read that you have this awful voice and then on top of that, that people have said these horrible things to you, it makes me furious. No one should be told these things ever. EVER. 😦

  3. Everyone has “inner voices” and mostly, to use a vernacular term, they suck! Living alone, as I do, the voice I hear most often is my inner voice, and after reading your column, prompted today by Emma’s wisdom, I am going to practice (while walking the dogs) how to tell the inner voice to just shut up….
    Go on, write your book. It will be valuable to the rest of us because yours and Emma’s inner voices are what we all want to/need to hear.
    xxoo 🙂

  4. My mean Voice is so mean that I gave him a name and wrote a book about him: The Book of Paul. I guess that’s one way to “out” it/him/me.

  5. Quite regularly I read about the things parents and teachers, even therapists, do with Autistic children, and my first incredulous thought is always ‘haven’t you HEARD of Ariane Zucher??’ Sometimes I manage to leave a link to Emma’s Hope Book before my ‘what makes you think anybody on earth is going to take note of what you say’ voice kicks in. If I actually manage to click on send, it will bother me for days as I try to resist hiding again.
    However! It completely astounds me that your inner voice, as you have just described it, actually exists, even as I SOOO get it 🙂 The only difference is that my inner voice is completely true as far as I am able to feel it 🙂 but I KNOW yours is not!!
    PLEASE write that book so that it can reach bookshops all over the world. Your inner voice is going to fill you with fear – it’s no mean task to override the amygdala – but perhaps it’s time to let it be and revert to trust; trust your readers! Your readers know best anyhow! 🙂 xxx

    • “The only difference is that my inner voice is completely true as far as I am able to feel it 🙂 but I KNOW yours is not!!” I so GET THIS!
      Forming a – Stamp Out The Mean Voice – SOTMV Group. And thank you for the encouragement!!

  6. I see parallels between your Mean Voice and my anxiety. It’s often triggered by irrational fears; I focus on negative outcomes — failure — to the point where I am too anxious to act. Trying to ignore the feelings doesn’t work. Instead I have had some small success learning strategies to cope with specific scenarios that restore a degree of control.

    • I like the idea of “learning strategies to cope with specific scenarios that restore a degree of control”. I need to think about this…

      • Thinking more about feelings as facts, I have started considering compulsive thoughts as an example. Things like needing to eat every last thing on my plate whether or not I’ve had enough (not that I’m often aware of physical sensations like hunger), or needing to listen to songs through to the end. Perhaps it also includes my need to follow established routines, performing actions such as getting washed and dressed in the morning in exactly the same order every time.

  7. Marianne Williamson says, ”
    Marianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson > Quotes

    Marianne Williamson quotes (showing 1-30 of 280)
    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
    ― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

    And re/ practice: in Yoga we say “We call it a practice for a reason. It’s a practice, not a perfect.” =)

  8. I remember saying to therapists in the 80’s something about the other me and got responses like “multiple personalities” and (uh, oh I just forgot the other). I am 53 and been through the gambit of addiction/self medication, misdiagnoses and finally deciding to decide for myself. When I looked from the inside-out at what was actually going on with this “other” me who wanted to kill me, I realized that all those words about me had been wrong, they were imported from all those who talked at me all my life, trying to decide what was “wrong” with me. I was right with me, I was complete inside me until I started listening to those opinions of others and taking them in–then the emotionalism came, and the thoughts tht I would never be “enough” for any of them,or anything in life, actually. I may still be alone, and unheard, but I threw out those comments that are “not me”, and they are no longer driving my emotions…whatever visualization works, I say nothing is allowed to drive my emotions but me.

  9. I’d like to be a member of the SOTMV group! I have earned my chair. It is so hard, and something that I grapple with daily, almost verbatim with what you said. I have lots of theories, and have learned lots of techniques. Meditation helps to become an observer of that voice, to put some space between what it’s saying and my perception of the actual truth. But nothing interrupts the mean voice more than taking actions. Sort of like George Bernard Shaw “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” The interrupter is the Mean Voice, and if you go ahead and do the thing, that gives you that daily reprieve. It’s sort of like a continuous feedback loop and if you can give you a way of getting a deadline to get the writing done (like a workshop – putting actions into community – involving other people) it disrupts that loop.

    • “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” – What a great quote! Also love the whole – doing the thing and how that gives you a daily reprieve.

  10. I have been there. I still fight the Mean Voice every day. Some days I have small victories, but the Mean Voice still wins too often.
    I have had career goals that I have given up on because the Mean Voice managed to convince me that I shouldn’t do that. The Mean Voice tells me that I am not good enough. I wanted to be a vet all through my childhood and into college, but then the Mean Voice got bad and told me that if I made mistakes (which I would do because I am not good enough) that animals would die. Logically, I understand that not all animals can be saved, and that even the best vets (or doctors) make mistakes. But, the Mean Voice convinced me to not try.
    The Mean Voice makes me question myself as a parent and even as a person.
    I haven’t yet found a way of telling the Mean Voice to just STFU and leave me alone.
    Maybe someday, we will all find a way to quiet the Mean Voice.

    • It would be SO nice if it left all of us alone. But while we are doing our best to quiet it, or not pay attention to it, I’m sending you and everyone on this thread hugs. Just a big, virtual, group hug!

  11. People can be afraid of trying to accomplish things from fear of failure. The mean voice can start in babyhood. My oldest niece was a bit late in walking because she’d try to walk and fall. She’d cry then, and my father said she’s afraid of failure. Even babies have self esteem issues.

    She’s twenty one now and keeps saying she’s not pretty. She is, but she doesn’t see it. She has a low self-confidence.

    The thing is to see yourself through realistic eyes, not through the eyes of the mean voice. The mean voice stops us from achieving our goals, and was there when I wanted to learn self defense or get a job, telling me I’d be the laughing stoke, the only one who’d fail at simple tasks.

    When I stopped taking the voice’s damaging advice, I got what I wanted. What we all need is virtual earplugs against the voice. Shut up, voice.

    • “When I stopped taking the voice’s damaging advice, I got what I wanted. What we all need is virtual earplugs against the voice. Shut up, voice.” Virtual earplugs is great!

  12. Bigger On The Inside

    I find this post and the comments a bit hard to fathom. I mean, I understand where you’re coming from – just because someone *feels* lazy/stupid/useless, it doesn’t mean they *are* lazy/stupid/useless.
    But it also seems to me (and shoot me down if I’m being too literal) that patently feelings are facts. If you feel sad, you feel sad, regardless of whether other people think you ought to feel sad or not. Your sadness is a fact.

    I think this area is a real minefield for lots of autistic people – firstly, because we often have trouble recognising and labelling our own feelings (whether emotions or sensory processing reactions), but secondly because other people so often tell us that we should not or cannot be feeling what we think we are feeling. If I’m rattled by the fact that the teabags are in the wrong place, or whatever, it doesn’t matter that ordinary people wouldn’t get upset by it, or that it didn’t bother me yesterday, or that it might not bother me tomorrow. What matters is that right now, I’m upset, and I need someone to accept that my feeling, however irrational, is real – it’s a fact. Then I need them to move the damn teabags. 😊

    I don’t mean to devalue what you all have said above; just putting a different perspective out there.

    • I don’t think you’ve devalued anything, but more added another aspect to all of this.
      I guess the thing about the “mean voice” is that it’s internal and it was that internal process that I was speaking of. But I also wrote that whole thing about “feelings aren’t facts” and I totally get how this sounds the same as saying that feeling something and having someone else counter that, by saying you shouldn’t feel that way or you can’t possibly feel that way because x, y and z, is similar, but I don’t think that’s the same thing. I mean someone discounting another person’s feelings is awful and just shouldn’t be done. I agree with you absolutely, it is a fact that I or you or whomever is feeling X, but I think that’s different than saying I’m feeling X and therefore I AM X or that feeling X then supports all the negative messages I might conclude or others might conclude about me.
      Need to think about this a bit more…

  13. I had a kind of mean voice and it was tied heavily to guilt and to the person in my life who used guilt as a weapon. It slowly, mostly went away when that person’s power over me shrunk, which was a nice surprise and one I’ve been thankful for. Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of those “just do this and it will be fixed” situations but a process that took years to unpack and a lot of pain to resolve (and was frustratingly one sided).

    So I have no advice, only good wishes and strength to send you. I know exactly what you mean about saying things to ourselves that we would never say to another. Sometimes it helps to actually think of my “self” as another person and practice compassion toward that self when my gut feeling is demanding perfection. But like you said, easier thought than practiced.

  14. I too have that voice and it seems very similar to yours, Ariane. Mine takes over most of the time though. There are tiny bits of time where I am able to ignore it but it is ever present. I think part of it is due to the way I was brought up and I guess the rest is just me.

    • I am thinking that it really isn’t “you” “me” “us” as much as it’s believing things we’ve heard or been told and being very sensitive people and internalizing those messages so that we think it’s “you”, “me,” “us’.

  15. My own “The Voice” likes to start our every writing session by critiquing my very first sentence, no matter what it says. “Did you just write that? You did. Why do we even let you write?….”

    The Voice, of course, does not care a whit that we’ve been published and so clearly LOTS OF people “let” us write. So I’ve had to learn to let it grouch in the background and write anyway. This works for me: eventually The Voice, with no audience, quiets down. But it takes a while sometimes.

    I am thrilled you and Emma are working on a book. I love the process of writing and would encourage just about anyone to try it. Plus I would love to read more of your (plural your) work.

    • Love this – “I’ve had to learn to let it grouch in the background and write anyway. This works for me: eventually The Voice, with no audience, quiets down.”
      And thank you Dani for the encouragement!

  16. As I was reading, with great personal understanding, I thought of the following quote from the movie A Beautiful Mind (which I re watched just last night), “I still see things that are not here. I just choose not to acknowledge them. Like a diet of the mind, I just choose not to indulge certain appetites; like my appetite for patterns; perhaps my appetite to imagine and to dream.” Ah, now if only making that choice could be easy.
    Well wishes to you and your family,

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