NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reclaiming the Power of Your Inner Voice

In my last article, I wrote about the core self in relation to Richard Schwartz's Internal Family Systems' model Internal Family Systems - Self Leadership. I focused on the "exile parts," which are parts of ourselves that contain trauma, emotional pain, and shame. I also mentioned the core self, which is that deep, central, internal place where we know intuitively and compassionately what's best for us. Another way of describing the core self is with the metaphor of the "inner voice."

What is Your Inner Voice?
The inner voice (or core self) is like an internal wise guide who helps us navigate through life. Some people talk about it in terms of having "a hunch" or "a sense" or "a gut reaction." 

Reclaiming the Power of Your Inner Voice

It's a felt sense and when you feel it, it feels right to you. When you're trying to make a decision and you sense your inner voice guiding you, that internal guidance resonates intuitively with you.

Discovering or Reclaiming the Power of Your Inner Voice:
There are many people who struggle to discover or reclaim the power of the inner voice.

I believe that your inner voice is never totally lost. I believe that it remains there to be discovered or reclaimed, even under the worst of circumstances.

Certain situations, like early trauma or an oppressive relationship, can often squelch the inner voice so that you're hardly aware of it or, in extreme cases, not aware of it at all. Under these circumstances, the inner voice is often suppressed so that it feels like it's no longer available. Sometimes, a person who is so burdened by emotional problems might forget his or her inner voice exists.

Reclaiming the Power of the Inner Voice through Creativity and Psychotherapy:
Many years ago, I met a woman in my neighborhood through a local civic group. I'll call her Betty (not her real name). In recent years, after she reclaimed the power of her inner voice, Betty has been very open with many people about her story, including telling her story at many public readings, so I'm not divulging anything here without her permission.

Back then, when I was first getting to know Betty through our work, I discovered that I enjoyed her company. We began to talk about creative writing, which I had recently resumed at that point. I shared some of my short stories with her and she showed me stories that she had written many years before. I thought her writing was quite good and I told her this. I was also curious why she had stopped writing. She said that she often felt an urge to resume her writing, but she didn't.

One evening, after our civic group meeting, I went to Betty's house to have dinner. She introduced me to her husband, Ben (not his real name) who greeted me warmly and welcomed me to their home. He was so kind and charming towards me that I was completely taken by surprise when I saw how he treated Betty during our dinner. Whenever Betty said anything, Ben interrupted her by either talking over her, contradicting her or criticizing what she said. The first time that it happened, I felt mildly annoyed. But as it continued to happen, it was all that I could do to contain myself in this awkward situation.

I could see that Betty was deeply affected by Ben's oppressive behavior. Her whole demeanor changed: her eyes were downcast, she lowered her head, and she began slumping in her chair. It was a painful transformation to watch. I was really just getting to know Betty, and this was not a side of her that I had seen before. Although I felt an inclination to defend her, I really wanted her to take a stand on her own and defend herself but, unfortunately, she didn't. The more that Ben interrupted, contradicted and criticized her, the more she caved in emotionally and physically.

As you can imagine, dinner felt like it went on forever. When it was finally over, Ben pushed his dishes in Betty's direction, pushed his chair back and excused himself while he went out to the back porch to smoke a cigar. I had the feeling that he had never washed a dish in that household during the 25 years that they had been together. When he left the room, I felt myself breathe a sigh of relief. It was as if, until then, he had sucked the air out of the room.

As I helped Betty put the dishes in the dishwasher, I struggled with what to say to her. At that point, she wasn't someone that I knew well, so I didn't feel like I could talk to her as a close friend about such a personal topic as her relationship with her husband, so I didn't say anything.

Sensing what I was thinking, Betty said to me, "You mustn't mind Ben. He doesn't mean any harm." Before I could respond, she quickly changed the subject and showed me around the house. When we went upstairs, we came to the door of a room that she described, almost apologetically, as her art studio. She started walking past the door, when I told her that, if she didn't mind, I'd like to see some of her art work. Betty seemed surprised that I was interested and she was very dismissive of her art, telling me that she was never very good at it and she hadn't done any work in a long time.

With a fair amount of hesitation, Betty opened the door and I was surprised and delighted to find beautiful paintings--portraits and landscapes. The colors and shapes were bold and full of life. There was such a contrast between the bold expressions in her art work and her demure behavior around her husband that I was shocked. Then, Betty told me that she had gradually given up her painting as well as her writing a few years after she got married. She said she had very little time at that point between taking care of the children when they were younger and taking care of her husband, so she gave it up. None of the paintings were hung up--they were just stacked against the walls in the room, left like forgotten orphans in that room.

When I praised Betty's work, she blushed, as if I was giving praise to her about someone else's work. She was so uncomfortable that she wanted to get out of that room as quickly as she could.

Over the next several months, Betty and I spent more time together. I encouraged her to start writing again, which she did, and we met once a week to share our stories. She had very little confidence at first, but as she continued to write, very gradually, her confidence started to grow a little. Her writing skills were really very good.

Betty also took my suggestion and hung some of her pictures in her studio. Although she was still very self critical about her work, when she hung up those pictures, along with resuming her creative writing, it was an important early step in helping her to reclaim the power of her inner voice.

Then, one day, Betty confided in me that she began psychotherapy. She knew that I would obviously be very supportive, which is one of the reasons why she told me. Fortunately, she chose a therapist who understood the importance of Betty's creativity and encouraged her to use her art as well as their psychotherapy sessions to reclaim her power. She also began working through very traumatic childhood issues.

Several months later, Betty felt confident enough to begin painting again. At first, she was very tentative and apologetic about her work but, over time, she became more confident. As she became more confident through her creative work and in her therapy, Betty began finding her inner voice and standing up to her husband. 

She had learned to tap into the power of her inner voice, and she was no longer intimidated by him. This completely changed the dynamic of their relationship, which was very uncomfortable for Ben. For the next several months, he tried his usual tactics to bully and intimidate her, but it didn't work. When she couldn't stand his behavior any more and he refused to go to marriage counseling, she knew that it was over, and she told him that she wanted a divorce.

Several months after their divorce, Betty met another man who was more of a kindred spirit to her than Ben ever was, they moved in together, and she has been very happy with him. During that time, she continued to use her art work and psychotherapy sessions to work through her family of origin issues as well as the aftermath of her marriage. She also shared her emotional journey with others through her prose and poetry.

Reclaiming the Power of Your Own Inner Voice:
You don't have to be a painter or a creative writer to use your creativity to reclaim the power of your inner voice. We are all creative beings--it's just a matter of tapping into our creativity. Journaling can be a powerful way to reclaim and strengthen your creativity and your inner voice.

Many people like the idea of writing, but they feel self conscious or lack confidence in themselves to even know where to begin. I often recommend to friends and clients alike that if they don't know how or where to start, they can read Julie Cameron's book called The Artist's Way. She gives wonderful exercises, including writing "morning pages" to help get the cobwebs out of your mind and get you started. I read The Artists Way more than15 years ago, and I found it inspiring in terms of developing my own creativity.

What If Working on Your Own is Not Enough to Reclaim Your Inner Voice?
Whenever I've wanted to develop my creativity or make major changes in my life, I've often found it very helpful to join like minded people. 

For instance, before I became a psychotherapist and I was trying to decide on a career change, I joined a support group called "Making Changes in Our Lives." Each of us was trying to develop in some area of our lives and the support and ideas in the group were very helpful. Most people were trying to redefine their careers, but some people were also contemplating relocating, having a baby, and other important life decisions.

When you're in a group with other like minded people who are also trying to make positive changes in their lives, you often find that what you can accomplish in that group is so much more than you can accomplish on your own, especially if there's synergy in the group.

But not everyone likes groups and not everyone has access to this kind of support group. So, either in addition to or instead of the support group, you might find it very helpful to work with a psychotherapist who can help you to reclaim your creativity and the power of your inner voice.

Whether you do the exercises in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, join a support group, begin psychotherapy, hire a coach, or do all of the above, it's important to take action and not allow yourself to stagnate. People are often surprised how taking one positive often leads to other positive steps in reclaiming their power.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and EMDR therapist.

I have helped many clients to reclaim their inner power to lead more fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Also, see my article:  "Parts" Work: Is an "Exile" Running Your Life?