One of my favorite authors as a child was Shel Silverstein. His poem, “The Voice,” provided a light for me:
There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I know that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you, just listen to,
The voice that speaks inside.
As a child, I was born into a cycle. We all were. I had no idea, of course, the chaos I was to endure, the job I was being given. Our home was like a pressure cooker. My father’s choices pushed my mother’s anger to the brink. He was the catalyst of my mother’s outbursts, and he sat back as she spilled over onto my sister, my brother, and me. He was always so adept at throwing a grenade into our home and then remaining silent while we received the aftermath—in the form of exhaustion, frustration, and anger from our mother.
One night, I came home to no electricity. My mother was heating water on the gas stove for our baths, as she slammed cabinet doors and dishes to show her displeasure with life. I felt the familiar tickling in my heart and lump in my throat that I felt everyday, wondering what and who I would be coming home to that day.
My inner voice is what helped me endure my childhood. In my darkest hours, she said:
You are going to be somebody.
You are somebody already.
It’s NOT all your fault.
You don’t deserve this.
They are troubled; you are not.
You WILL get through this.
You will parent differently.
You are not responsible for their anger and resentment.
My inner voice knew something that my childish conscience did not. She knew that we are who we say we are, not what others label us. She knew there was love—it was just cloaked in anger. She knew I had someone great inside of me, and she helped to nurture me, there in that dark room as I cried from pain. Pain from the blows, pain from the words, and pain from the cycle.
We are all the recipients of either a positive familial cycle or a negative one. This forms who we are, who we will become. It’s luck really, or predestined, depending on your beliefs, as we don’t get to choose who will guide the first twenty-something years of our lives. We just go along for the ride—one of respect, guidance, love, and honor; or one of disrespect, resentment, and the imprints of a cycle that started long before us. For most of us, our childhoods are a mixture of all these things.
My mother came from abandonment, she came from rejection, she came from anger. She didn’t have the coping skills, because her mother didn’t have the coping skills. She was a part of a cycle, the cycle I wasn’t aware I was in.
My parents wanted the best for their children, just like we all do. However, they came to the party unprepared. Good parenting requires strong coping skills, a foundation of not just love, but of understanding. It requires confidence, resolve, and a keen ability to view your own behavior in order to change what needs to be changed. And it requires honesty—honesty about the cycle and what it prepared for you to bring to the table.
As parents it’s hard to say I’m sorry. It’s hard to admit the truth—which might not be so pretty—in front of your children. But it’s necessary. It’s necessary for growth. It’s necessary for respect. It’s necessary for forgiveness and understanding. And it’s necessary to change the cycle.
As a psychotherapist, I lend compassion and hope. I lend my voice for when you have trouble hearing your own. My goal is always to help your inner voice become louder, as it is in that voice we find our true selves and are able to change cycles.
Listen to your inner voice. Are you having trouble hearing her?
Sit in silence, she is there.
Get into nature, she is there.
Notice your thoughts, she is there.
Breathe deeply, she is there.
Look at your children, she is there.
Write in your journal, she is there.
Give away compassion and kindness, she is there.
She loves you, she guides you, she sees you, she IS you!
By age 16, I moved out of my childhood home to escape the chaos. I struggled with low self worth, poor coping skills, and a reactive nature. But my quest to understand the cycle has helped me to grow as a person. I am a true believer that our life happens for us and not to us.
As I aged, I began to forget about the voice within, but I remember distinctly when she came back to me. At 17 years of age, with tears streaming down my face, I wrote a letter saying goodbye to those I loved. I wrote in detail why I couldn’t go on anymore. I apologized that I wasn’t strong enough to endure what I had been handed. Then she spoke to me, and I listened. That familiar, warm, caring, voice within.
She said, Oh, no, you will not.
She said, You are needed.
She said, It gets better, I promise!
She said, This is not how it ends.
She said, You have a cycle to break.
And I listened. I listened to the gentle voice that lies within.
At some point in our lives, if we come from dysfunction, we must become our own loving parent. This change doesn’t happen overnight, but we must learn to stand in for ourselves. We must learn to stand up for ourselves. We must listen to the voice within—for it is in that voice that we find our true selves and are able to change cycles.
QUESTION: How has a quiet, kind voice within guided your choices and experiences throughout life?
CHALLENGE: If you are struggling to hear the wisdom of a voice within, take one of the author’s suggestions this week: sit in silence, get into nature, notice your thoughts, breathe deeply, look at your children, write in your journal, and/or give away kindness. Write down what you discover about yourself and your life.
Edited by Rachel Nielson and Sarah Monson.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.