1. A Cacophony of Voices.
We, humans, are not one “person.” Our heads are filled with any number of voices: The wise adult (mostly, we hope, in charge) but also, for many, an angry, lonely, or sad voice that can, in an instant, take over. Other voices, often deeply repressed, express the inevitable vulnerability we feel as mortal beings. Still others carry the stories that mask this vulnerability, making it more bearable. Work to have all of your voices in right relation with one another.
2. Be Intimate With Your Self.
Intimacy – mutual and authentic contact – an option with others, is an unwavering goal with your self. This sounds obvious, but it isn’t. We ride roughshod over our self through the overly simple stories by which we live (e.g., I’m “unemotional and logical” or “nurturing and all loving’), or through consuming addictive distractions (work/ambition, drugs and alcohol, acquisitiveness, an obsessive focus on politics or sports). Recognize these forces within you. Do all you can to counteract them.
3. Don’t Judge Your Emotional Brain. Understand and Manage It.
Your emotional brain is 10 times faster than your thinking brain and, once activated, stays in control until IT decides the danger has passed. It also shrinks your thinking brain, paving the way for a super fast emotional response. For these reasons, strong emotions, including negative ones such as anger, flare really quickly. So remember this: Strong emotions you can’t seem to control make you – not a jerk – but a human. Don’t judge them. Instead, seek to understand them and manage them.
4. Create Safety for All Your Voices.
The essence of intimacy is to see – and be seen – fully, in all of our complexity. When safety is present, it nourishes and heals. When it’s absent, intimacy can tear us apart. Cultivate an ability to fully listen to all of your voices. Offer them the emotional support they’ll often need to speak up, fully and authentically. And remember as well that the voice that’s listening may, at times, be deeply affected by what’s being shared. Tend to that voice’s safety as well.
5. Heal Yourself Through Integration, Not Amputation.
We instinctually wall off voices that hurt or behave badly, isolating them from our consciousness. This process leaves us vulnerable to their eruption in painful, hard to control ways. Then, we compound the problem by trying (in vain) to end the pain by killing these voices off. The better approach: Use your relational skills to integrate these voices into the larger whole that is you. Being seen and understood will ease their pain – and the pain they cause you. And your wiser parts can then take leadership in soothing them and tending to their deeper healing.
6. Tend Appropriately to Your Childhood Wounds.
Childhood hurts create powerful inner voices that express both the pain we feel and the stories we create to cope with it. As adults, these voices live on; triggered – often without our awareness – by situations our brain associates with the original wounding event. For these voices, time stands still. If they came on line at 8, they’ll have the attributes of an 8 year old. Offer them love and understanding but also a firm, loving adult voice – just like you would with an 8 year old.
6. Practice the Other, and Soothe.
Your emotional brain ways are deeply habitual. So when things are more relaxed and comfortable, remain aware of the characteristic feelings that are triggered in you when things get tense – anxiety? anger? obsessiveness? – and regularly practice the “other.” So, for example, deliberately get in the slow lane, or go to a meeting with a less meticulous game plan. And, when “that” feeling flares, do the little things that will soothe it: Music – or exercise – or a call to a friend. “That” feeling will recede (though at its own pace) and 10% or 20% less pain, in the meantime, matters.
7. Never Give Up on Yourself.
With others, an inability to deal with a safety issue may limit or end the relationship. But when it comes to your self, things are very different. Never give up on your self or on any of the voices within you.