by Jonathan Robinson: When I was in my early teen years, I barely spoke. People considered me to be painfully shy.
However, the real reason I didn’t talk was because I was a slave to someone known as Bertha. Bertha would scream at me whenever I attempted to make friends with anyone. In a voice full of alarm and panic, she would yell, “You better not do that—you’ll look stupid!” When I heard her, I would immediately back off and lose my opportunity to make a friend. The fact that Bertha was only a voice inside my own head didn’t make her any less scary. She was completely in control—until I came upon a method that got her off my back, and out of my head. Once her attempts to scare me no longer worked, my life radically changed.
Most people have their own particular form of “Bertha.” It may be a voice in their head that tells them they’re not good enough, or smart enough, or that they’ll always be a loser. Like an out of control cancer, destructive thoughts such as this can ruin a person’s life if they’re not attended to. The first step to handling such harmful voices in one’s head is to clearly identify them. While we all have critical thoughts from time to time, most people have one or two thought patterns that are particularly destructive and limiting. Can you think of what yours are?
From my many years as a psychotherapist, I learned that people are often subject to similar destructive thoughts. Below is a list of ten thought patterns that often give people problems:
Thoughts such as…
- I should just kill myself.
- I hate myself.
- I can’t do anything right.
- No one could ever love me.
- I better not say anything because I’ll just look foolish.
- I’m so ugly (or fat).
- I’m so stupid.
- She (or he) is going to pay for what they did to me.
- I can’t believe I did that. I am so dumb.
- I just need a stiff drink (or smoke, etc) and everything will be okay.
Once you recognize a specific destructive thought pattern from your own life or the above list, it’s helpful to give it a name. My apologies to all women named “Bertha.” To me, the name “Bertha” symbolizes a very fat, mean woman with a nasty temper. That’s how the voice in my head said, “You better not do that, you’ll look stupid!” To help me create some distance from that voice, I called it Bertha. Now that the voice was named, it didn’t seem quite so ominous. After all, it was no longer me saying I needed to behave a certain way—it was mean and nasty Bertha. What is a name you could give to a specific voice in your head? Any name will do. The important thing is that you know precisely the thought pattern the name corresponds to. Once you’ve identified a specific voice and given it a name that fits, you’re ready to go to battle.
The only way destructive thoughts can impact our lives is when we take them very seriously. Harmful thoughts literally feed off of our reaction to them. If we can laugh at them, or even ignore them, they soon wither away and die. They have no power other than the energy we give them. Therefore, once a person has a destructive thought identified, they need to practice ways of distancing themselves from the harmful voice. There are two simple ways of doing this. The first it to have a dialog with the destructive thought pattern, and the second is to make it seem ridiculous.
When having a dialog with your own brand of “Bertha,” imagine that her job is to annoy and control you, whereas your job is to not take its ranting so seriously. Talk to this voice, either out loud or inside your head. Say things like, “Hello, I was expecting you now. Blah, blah, blah–you always say the same old stuff. You’re going to need new material if you expect to hook me like you have in the past. Why don’t you just calm down and take your mouth off the panic button? Everything is just fine—you just sound stupid when you get so hysterical. You’re not needed now.” Of course, your dialog with your harmful voice should be whatever works for you. In general, the more your “Bertha” realizes you’re hip to its ways, the more it will leave you alone.
The second way to get Bertha off your back is to change the tone of the voice in which she speaks to you. When I question people about the bothersome voices in their head, they almost always say they hear a mean, scary, or urgent tone of voice. In fact, much of the impact of such thoughts come from not only what they say, but how they sound. Fortunately, you can easily change the tone of the voice to sound ridiculous. Next time you hear your particular brand of “Bertha,” try to say “her” thoughts using Mickey Mouse’s tone of voice. If Mickey doesn’t work for you, try Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny. No matter what you think, it’s hard to take it too seriously if you hear it in a Bugs Bunny tone of voice.
As you talk back to your Bertha, or change her tone of voice to sound funny, you’ll no longer find her to be so scary or bothersome. Sticks and stone may break your bones, but passing thoughts need not hurt you if you don’t take them so seriously. Once bothersome thoughts lose their power over you, you’ll feel like a great burden has been lifted. You’ll be free to act in ways that you previously avoided, and you’ll be able to create new outcomes in your life. Getting Bertha out of your head and off your back can help you to soar to new heights in your life.
Jonathan Robinson is the author of 12 books, a frequent guest on Oprah, and the co-host of the popular podcast Awareness Explorers. His latest book is “More Love, Less Conflict.” You can download his podcast on iTunes, and get for free his “12 Questions for Instant Intimacy with Anyone” at his site: MoreLoveLessConflict.com