For some time, I’ve dealt with my own monstrous inner dialogue. My brain has not always been kind to me. My thoughts, though meant to motivate me or spur me on, did (and many times still do) utterly crush me.
My own faults aside, I have worries for my children and I desperately want them to be aware of their inner dialogue. How do you help a child realize they even have an inner dialogue? Teaching them how to converse with it and care for themselves? No clue.
In what was either a moment of insanity or brilliance, I went for it. We were driving back from mommy/kiddo date time, when I decided to venture into this mystical unknown territory with an 8 year-old. She had just remarked at how she wasn’t very good at something. I knew this was one of those times where her brain was after a certain result – her working harder, but she was unaware of its intent or potential harm.
You see, when my brain tells me that I am a failure and I need to suck it up – this is usually an indicator of my desire to do better. However, it only makes me shut down, which only makes my brain get louder and nastier and downright bully-ish. My brain is driven, at times, by my amygdala (we can call her Amy for short). Long ago, Amy was responsible for keeping us safe from bears, storms and other imminent dangers. Today, when Amy is driving the bus (aka our brains), she can be a little overzealous, because bears and storms and nature aren’t really threats to me today. Today’s threats include screwing up my children’s lives, eating unhealthily and taking a nap (vs. exercising). When I screw one of these up, Amy gets all riled because I am going against what I know is right and safe and good. She sends messages to my brain that send it into def-con 7 mode (otherwise known as military general mode). When the military general takes over, its like boot camp. He’s yelling “Get up fatty and eat Kale!!!” at the top of his lungs. Meanwhile, my heart is reverted to the fetal position and is chanting “I’m fat, I’m fat, I’m fat.”
This gets us nowhere. Literally, nowhere.
I usually just end up eating donuts.
Amy, my brain, my heart? We need to have a conversation, peace talks if you will.
This was the concept I was trying to explain to my little one. I shared all of the above with her and then said (like it was so easy), “Sometimes you need to talk back to your brain.”
She started giggling and looked at me like I had lost my mind. So I demonstrated…
“Hey brain, you are so right that I need to do something healthy right now, but calling me fat hurts me and I don’t want to do what you say.” And then my brain says…
“Oh, I was just trying to help, because I know you want something different and Amy is really concerned that you are not going to get it sitting on your ass.” Generalisimo Brain says.
“Yeah, Amy is right that I won’t, but I need you to talk to me more nicely. And let Amy know that one slip-up does not equal death.” My heart says.
“Okay, I’ll let her know that this is not the end of the world. Also, you can do this. Getting up isn’t hard. I know you have done harder things.” Suddenly, my brain is sending the right messages to everybody.
So that’s why I talk back to my brain. She’s smart, but she’s getting a lot of messages from different places and can be hard to figure it all out.
“Does that make sense, kiddo?” I ask.
Hysterical laughter erupts from the backseat.
Well, at least I tried….