What does your inner voice say when something goes wrong? Does it offer soothing words like, it wasn’t your fault, or that you were only doing your best? Or does it blame and criticize you, calling you stupid, lazy, or worse?
Many people, especially those with anxiety and depression, suffer from a harsh self-critical inner voice. To avoid this voice, people often distract themselves by scrolling through social media, playing video games, or Netflix binging. But the criticism doesn’t go away—instead, it continues to affect you negatively, worsening mental health symptoms over time.
Therapist, speaker, and author Sarah Peyton offers a new path for people who have read countless self-help books without effect. Peyton argues that the key to healing is through working with the brain’s neuroplasticity to create an innate support system. In Your Resonant Self, Peyton explains how to use resonant language and meditative techniques to make this neurological shift.
The Default Mode Network (DMN)
The default mode network (DMN) is the part of the brain that automatically integrates memory and thought, and goes “online” whenever people are not focusing on something in the external world. This part of the brain is responsible for a sense of self and can be disrupted by early adverse childhood experiences and/or trauma. When this happens, people may experience ongoing negative thoughts, self-blame, and even self-abuse.
Often, these negative patterns happen below the level of awareness. People may continuously distract themselves so that the DMN goes “offline,” which occurs whenever they are focused on something external. Video games and social media are two common ways to shut the DMN down.
But the DMN is still there, even if it’s being ignored. A self-blaming DMN can worsen anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders; make people feel generally helpless or hopeless; and promote isolation and cruelty. Because this all happens unconsciously, a savage DMN can affect people for years and even decades without any sign of relief.
Changing the DMN Through Resonant Language
Peyton’s treatment for changing one’s DMN is twofold: to notice how you are feeling, and to bring gentleness, warmth, and compassion towards those emotions. Resonance is the experience of being fully understood by another, and it has positive, calming effects on the body. This is why an empathetic therapist or friend can be incredibly healing for those who feel isolated or unhappy. When people are able to bring resonance to themselves, the healing effects can be even more transformative.
To understand how you are feeling, Peyton recommends specific meditations to help tune into one’s inner voice. When people become conscious of their thoughts and emotions, the next step is to try to pinpoint and accept the universal need beneath the emotions. For example, if someone is constantly annoyed with her partner, she may be experiencing a deeper anguish of being ignored or misunderstood.
Petyon suggests using warm and empathetic questioning to make the inner critic feel heard, understood, and accepted. For example, the hurt partner may ask herself: Are you feeling upset because your partner isn’t making time for you, and that makes you feel like you don’t matter to them? Then, of course, you realize that you are feeling that way. And that’s okay. It’s a natural way to feel.
This use of resonant language towards the self-critic begins to strengthen neural pathways of self-empathy. Over time and with practice, these pathways become stronger and more instinctive. Resonant language also allows the self-critic to ruminate less on its anger or hurt since it is being “heard.” Eventually, the self-critic begins to give way to a more mindful and connected DMN that can focus on healing trauma, accepting the imperfect self and others, and enjoying the pleasures found in daily life.
The One-Cell Meditation
Peyton offers an early meditation in the book that helps people start to tune into their DMN. An abbreviated version is below.
1. Start to come into your body by bringing your awareness to different parts, such as your fingers and toes. When you feel grounded, gently bring your attention to your breath.
2. Hold out a hand in front of you, and imagine bringing one tiny cell from your body into your palm. Notice how you feel about this cell—distanced, curious, grateful?
3. If this cell had a particular emotion, what would it be? Is it anxious or angry, wanting protection or reassurance? How does it feel about being acknowledged?
4. Imagine the cell returning to your body. How is it interacting with the cells around it?
5. Bring your attention back to your body as a whole. Is it easier to feel warmth and gratitude for your body? Whether it is or not, allow yourself to feel supported by the chair, floor, or whatever surface is supporting you.
Often, people have a hard time extending warmth and empathy towards themselves, even though they can feel it for others. This meditation helps to externalize a part of the body so that this may feel more natural. Whatever the emotional results, this meditation is helping to begin the process of listening to and supporting oneself.
Your Resonant Self can be found here.
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