Graffiti in Florence, Italy -photo taken by Barbara Scoville
It’s eight o’clock in the evening and you have just sat down with your favorite drink and a book, when you hear a nagging voice whispering, “You shouldn’t be reading; there’s still work to do.”
You’re having lunch with a friend in your favorite restaurant. You look at the menu and see your favorite dish, and then the voice makes itself known again, “You can’t have that; it’s too many calories. Look at the skinny menu.”
You are exiting the freeway and see a family standing in the median with a sign that reads, “Stranded and hungry, anything will help.” You hear a voice whispering, “Go to Wendy’s and buy them dinner.”
Some people might call that silent voice their conscience, but is it really?
In Don Miguel Ruiz’s best selling book, The Four Agreements, he proposes the theory that the voices we hear in our head, are really the agreements (conscious or subconscious) we made as children with our parents and other people in authority.
What does that mean you ask? Let me explain.
Developmentally speaking, when an infant is less than four months old, he can’t conceptualize the fact that there are other people beside himself. In other words he thinks that whoever is holding him, is part of himself. In addition, he believes that food appears in his mouth and diapers are changed spontaneously.
Around four months of age this changes and the child becomes aware he is not alone. He also senses if he wants his needs to be adequately met, it is best if the person taking care of him is happy; and that’s where this conscience/critic thing all begins.
As the child grows older he understands he must comply by making agreements with his all-powerful parents if he wants to be happy.
I have to brush my teeth and take a bath or I will get in trouble.
If I don’t clean the bathroom spotless, my mom will be mad and I will have to do it again.
If I get bad grades, I will be grounded.
Ruiz’s message is that we carry these agreements into adulthood.
Some of those agreements are good: “I really do need to practice proper hygiene.” But some are bad: “I am not smart enough; skinny enough; or hardworking enough.”
The disturbing thing is, they become so ingrained into our unconscious mind that we often unknowingly accept them as fact.
If as adults we are not careful, the critical voices in our heads (agreements we made with authority figures in the past) can continue to rule our actions through fear of abandonment. Even worse, they can define our identity.
Before we know it, we are making choices based out of fear rather than love.
One day I was walking in my upstairs hallway when a little miracle happened. I had the unexpected, uninvited gift of looking into my mind as an objective bystander. I was able to differentiate my own voice from the subtle yet powerful critical chatter that was calling the shots.
The chatter was saying:
“Hurry, go faster… Others are expecting you to get ‘it’ done… What’s the matter with you? Why can’t you go faster? You’ll never make it. People will be upset with you if you can’t get it all done. You’re going to get in trouble. You’re doing it wrong. People are going to be unhappy. Hurry. Faster. Faster. ”
Startled by my observation, I asked myself, “Where are those voices coming from?” That’s when a fuzzy picture of my parents, former teachers, husband, children, magazine covers, and a lot of unknown blurry faces, began to come into focus.
Wait a minute! I didn’t give permission for those people (love them though I do) to take up residence in my head, let alone whisper orders from the recesses of my subconscious.
…and that’s when I decided to thank them for visiting, but tell them I would no longer be needing their services. From here on out I will be calling the shots; thank you very much.
According to Don Ruiz, this is where we decide as adults which agreements we want to keep, and which we are going to drop. It is the true act of individuation
So what is the difference between your conscience and your critic, or is there a difference?
In psychological terms conscience is described as leading to feelings of remorse when one does things that go against his/her moral values, and to feelings of goodness or integrity when actions conform to his/her moral values.
Notice I highlighted his/her. I believe this is the key factor in determining whether the voice is your conscience speaking, or your critic.
Being an authentic individual requires us to choose our own values and morals.
As adults, if we abdicate our right to choose, we become subject to the critic. It’s perfectly okay to choose to keep some of the agreements we made as children, as long as it’s our choice.
As for agreements made through the influence of peers, and the media, do a mental inventory and decide if they are congruent with your moral values. If they aren’t, and they are inviting negativity into your life; KICK THEM OUT!
And by all means, make choices based on love and not fear. We can do it 🙂
That’s all for this week. Until next time, may you find you cup half full 🙂
Barbara (The Blog Whisperer)
P.S. This post is not an endorsement for The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. I love the concept, but dislike the book. The four agreements are good principles to live by but the book takes it so far, in my opinion the message loses its’ power.