Do voices keep you up at night? Are there voices in your head that constantly pick on you or call you out on things that really aren’t problems but the voices in your head think they’re problems? Does your brain tell you that you can’t do something or shouldn’t do something for whatever reason?
I’d like to introduce you to Brad. A few friends and I have taken to naming that voice “Brad.” Most of us have a “they” in our heads that are constantly judging us and questioning everything we say or do. Sometimes it comes in the form of the hamster wheel of late-night thoughts that keep us from sleeping, sometimes it comes from the ruminating and replaying something we did or said during the day that we just wish had gone differently. There are a million reasons why these voices take up residence and can keep us stuck perseverating on whatever. I have often found that Brad is linked to societal expectations of who I am supposed to be as a forty-year-old woman, wife, and mom.
Regardless of where those voices or words have come from giving them a name gives me the ability to emphatically yell “Shut up Brad!” (I personally am envisioning Brad from Rocky Horror Picture Show) and for some reason or another that stops the thoughts in their tracks. It gives me a chance to take a breath and really think about what the voice is saying to me — is it worthy of keeping me up at night? Usually, the answer is no because all this rumination on the hamster wheel is the stories my mind is telling me about scenarios that simply aren’t true.
The brain is a funny thing; we understand so much about it now, but we are still fighting it. In some ways our brains haven’t caught up with the inputs of modern life and the constant influx of extra stimulus social media provides or the myriad of interactions we have now that weren’t part of our evolutionary development. Our brain also treats us like we’re the most important thing in the world and all our words or actions carry such weight that we must analyze and overanalyze them constantly. While it’s good to be the center of our own worlds to a certain extent, we often forget that everyone is the center of their own universe so many of the things we say or do are not nearly as important to them as they are to us. I still think about some of the embarrassing things that I said or did in elementary, middle or high school but I bet almost no one I went to school with probably thinks of even remembers them at this point; so why do they take up residence?
Many times, I find myself deliberating or rehashing an event like a director trying to look at it from all the angles to decide exactly how bad I screwed it up and then I remember that is Brad talking. He’s the one that feels this event needs my attention even though there were plenty of amazing and beautiful things that happened during the day.
It’s getting stuck on this negativity loop keeps me from moving forward some days. It keeps me from being present in the moment and sometimes keeps me from being able to fall asleep at night.
I have found that by naming the voice in my head that wants to keep me stuck I can instead tell it to shut up every now and again. This lets me jump off the hamster wheel; by jumping off the wheel Brad loses his power, and I can move forward with whatever needs to be done or by staying present and enjoying whatever I’m doing now.
Sometimes I really do screw up and need to atone for a wrong-doing but most of the time Brad usually opens his mouth when I haven’t really done anything wrong but there is some perceived notion that I didn’t play by the rules or “they” might judge me for something.
If you’ve watched Luca from Pixar, you might remember Alberto telling Luca about Bruno. Bruno is the name Alberto has given the voice that says you can’t do something. Alberto tells Luca to say “Silenzio, Bruno” to shut that voice up. When my family was sitting and watching Luca a few weeks ago I was so amazed to hear my own Brad technique echoed in this animated movie for kids (although let’s be honest, Pixar movies are not just for kids). However, after the way Pixar handled the brain and emotions in Inside Out I’m not sure why I was surprised.
You can pick any name you want, whether it’s Brad or Bruno, maybe the name of the middle school bully that has stuck with you?
Being able to give this voice of judgement, shame, and fear a name and then promptly telling it silenzio or shut up you can begin to take your own mind back and away from the stories your own brain is trying to tell you.