Monday, 12 April 2010

The Insanity Box: What Are They Thinking?

image used with permission (accredited, non-derivative) Creative Commons2010
During a conversation with a client a few months ago, the topic of 'all those voices in my head' came up. You know the ones, you're mildly wandering through a mall with a child who, upon reflection, probably isn't wearing the cleanest clothes, and their left shoe is untied and you aren't up for the struggle of getting it tied today, and you just realized you don't even know where a hairbrush is... and you catch sight of one of those faces in the crowd. Someone looks at your child, makes a face like it's encountered a bad smell, and glares at you.

Is there anyone who doesn't immediately roll out the litany of all the things that face is thinking?

  • why isn't that child in clean clothes?
  • who is that incompetent mother?
  • doesn't anyone love the child enough to tie its shoes?
  • let us hope that scraggly woman is the babysitter, although whose poor judgement hired her?
  • is hair brushing out of style?
  • parents should have to pass competency tests...
While it would be fun to list all the other potential things that face was actually thinking... 
'my kid was such a brat at that age...'
'that mom sure has it good, she didn't have to listen to my mother criticizing everything about her... '
'I hate being reminded of my deceased child in malls... '
'I wonder if my daughter will ever let me see my grandchild... '
'I hated being a child, I was never allowed to be so free...'

Yeah, that's fun...

...but the problems parents face aren't just that they're no good at telepathy, and worse at predicting what anyone around them is likely to be thinking at any given moment --however good they are at accurately guessing the mood.

The problem is that the voices that give such snarky and vile tones to the words in those thoughts are supplied within the parent's head, not from outside.

At some point in our lives, we have heard, half-heard and half-understood a great deal of emotionally-loaded criticism.
That we don't remember when we first heard them, or what the context was or even who it was who said it, or who repeated it, or who we didn't hear or notice contradicting it at the time is... interesting, but not really worth spending a lot of time exploring, in my opinion. The issue is right now, today, and the hit our self-esteem gets from our own minds when the litany is replayed, and replayed and replayed...

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Terry Pratchett, in Monstrous Regiment, describes a deceased god, who is now nothing more than reflections and echoes of prayers and requests, 'nothing but a poisonous echo of all your ignorance and pettiness and maliciousness and stupidity.' 

A quote which was rolling around in my head when my client described her personal litany of 'I'm a bad mom' that she expects to be going on in other's heads when they look at her.

"Those voices are just your Insanity Box," I quipped, completely out of the air.

"What's an Insanity Box?"
Echoes and reflections, interfering with each other, amplifying each other and recalling each other, voices of half-remembered, half-understood comments from almost anyone, often directed at someone else at the time... and a name gives a person power over it. 

Once there is a name for the Insanity Box, the owner becomes aware of the ownership, and the power of the Witness is developed. 
The Witness is the part of everyone that is the 'me' who says 'that sounds good to me', the 'I' who says 'I feel...' 

Once the Witness is aware of the Insanity Box it can perceive the voices as 'over there' or,
even more powerfully, 'not me.'

From that point on, there is a new way to deal with the litany of criticisms whether expected or imagined: 'oh, that's just my Insanity Box getting heated up again...' 

Eventually, it even becomes possible to see that a lot of people's critical words and harsh tones are nothing but their Insanity Box speaking through their mouths, not what they really think and feel at all. Peace at last...