None of us is just “one” of us. I don’t mean that in the multiple personality disorder sense. I’m not urging anybody to start thinking like Sybil. But I am certain that we retain patterns of thought and behavior in our minds that relate to particular times in our lives, when particularly powerful events were shaping us.
Those idiosyncratic patterns of thought and behavior are like grooves on a track that catch your tires and then won’t let you navigate freely. They can slow you down or even fail to allow you to make a sharp turn and end up heading straight for a wall.
We each have the equivalent of a kind of Board of Directors inside our minds—and the members of the Board each keep parroting those rigid, sticky patterns of thought and behavior. They want to be heard because the life experiences “they” lived through were dramatic enough to qualify them as distinct Board members.
Remember, I am not suggesting that these are separate personalities of yours. They are all YOU. But they are ways of thinking and behaving that are inflexible and triggered by anxiety or loss or risk or any number of other events or challenges in life.
Here’s an example: If you were profoundly disappointed by one authority figure after another as a kid, then that kid still is inside you someplace and can show up at every meeting of the Board of Directors protesting, “Don’t think for a minute that your employer has your best interest at heart. You’ll be let down soon enough.”
Letting that kid take control of the Board meeting in your mind, again and again, is dangerous because that can convince you to doubt mentors who might actually deliver for you. And that doubt could damage the relationship and actually lead to false data about that mentor failing you.
You must be the sage, measured, Chairman of the Board. And that means sometimes talking to the less sage parts of you that to commandeer the Board meeting to quell their anxieties, indulge their needs for risk or cause needless, angry debate.
Does that really mean talking to yourself. Yes. Not necessarily out loud, mind you, but, yes. It might sound something like this, “Listen, I know you’re always ready to rumble. You were bullied. Your tendency is to stand your ground no matter what—and fight. But this time, it sure looks like we’re wrong. There’s nothing bad about yielding when the other guy has a point.”
See, if you don’t listen to the polarized parts of yourSELF and talk some sense into them, they will talk over the more strategic, balanced, optimistic, loving, confident parts of you. They’ll dominate the discussion.
Talking to yourSELVES is an art form. It takes some practice. But if you don’t learn the art, you’re going to be learning the hard way that the best part of you isn’t the one in control.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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