Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Do You Know the Sound of Your Own Voice?

When I was in counseling 5 years ago, one of the most interesting things my therapist shared with me was that sometimes people from the closest of families have a disadvantage in love and marital relationships. This was actually more than interesting—it was startling. Aren't the people from close families supposed to have a leg up when it comes to relationships? 

Well, in many respects, we do.

But when it comes to building a life with someone else, having close family members' voices continually piping up in the back of your head can sometimes silence your own internal voice and prevent you from making the kinds of decisions you would make on your own, with your partner. I struggled with this a lot when I started contemplating not having children. I heard and felt the influence of generations bearing down on me, telling me I should have kids. It was my duty. I HAD to do it.

And then my dad cut me a huge break and told me it was okay if Mr. W and I decided to forego children. Score one for Daddy Hetherington.

Unfortunately, his voice didn't shut down all the rest. I've had to learn to distinguish them all myself. And it has occurred to me that it's not just familial voices trying to steer my course—there are friends and even strangers expressing their opinions in there, too. Which begs the question: who are we all listening to when we make choices in our lives?

With all the shoulds crowding our heads, how do we know which ones are coming from our own instinct and which are coming from the people around us—friends, family, Facebook acquaintances?

It's so dangerously easy to tune into the commentary and opinions of others, whether in our airspace or in our own heads. And maybe it's okay to do so...until we lose our own authentic voices in the process.

Just because your grandmother thinks you should wear lipstick to the grocery store, does it mean you have to? Just because your friends from high school take spring break trips to Belize with their husbands and kids, does it mean you're inadequate if you don't? Just because Access Hollywood tells you Botox is the new black, does that mean you have to go get it?


Just as my therapist taught me I had to break away from the well-meaning dialog in my head to find my own internal voice, I want to tell everyone I know that they don't have to listen to other people in their lives to make decisions, choose their paths, feel right in their skin.

The only words you need to listen to are your own.

Kick the shoulds right to the curb.


  1. Amen sister. I had the exact opposite problem. About 8 years ago I had people telling me I shouldn't have a baby without being married. Best advice I ever ignored. Ha.

    No one but no one can get into someone else's head or someone else's life and tell them what is right for them.

    Besides, it seems like no matter what decision we make, someone is going to disagree with it and feel compelled to give their two cents.

  2. I feel like it took me a while to get this, but then I know much older people who still seem as if they haven't "gotten it." I feel like it's a fight for quite a while until you get used to being okay with it, and even then it can still be difficult and not feel right.
    I think you really know when that thing comes along that pushes you to change more than anything before it has, and maybe until then it's not right anyway.

  3. Just for the record I always wear lipstick to the grocery store.

  4. Mandy - It's true. I need to remind myself to keep my two cents to myself, also.

    Lesley - I think the trick is realizing that you can still have loving relationships with people even if you don't heed their advice - or feel compelled to live your life exactly like they do.

    Jeff - And I bet it's trampy and bright red, huh?

  5. This is a great post, and not just because you're my wife. I wish I had known all of this when I was younger and it took me a while to work though it. It might have made the struggles easier to understand.

    The biggest message I'll take away from this advice is that I will ignore that voice coming from outside my own head that tells me to clean the backyard.

  6. Mr. W - Man I was thinking you were all sweet until I got to that last line. THAT voice is okay to listen to - it's very wise and will help you grow your cleaning and organizational skills.

  7. There is so much truth to your words, missy! I think that, in particular, in closely knit families, the onus falls on the parents to give their children room to think independently and make their own decisions. I'm sure I've told you this before, but a long time ago, I quit my job and moved across state lines to be with a certain someone. I was so scared that my parents were going to think it was the worst decision ever that I was shocked to learn they were ok with it. My dad's words exactly (I remember them to this day, 15 years later), "I think it's really presumptuous for parents to think they know what's best for their adult children. Only you know what's best for your life and we're here to support you in any decisions you make."

  8. I don't want to listen to other people tell me what to do, but I have plenty of opinions about what everyone should or should not be doing. I'll try to keep them to myself....except when it comes to my Mr. W...then he better be all ears. And that counts for your Mr. W as well....all ears when being told by you what to do and how to do it.

  9. And I will ignore the voice that says I can't have an affair with Zac Efron if he is ever my son in law.

  10. You know what you should do, listen to yourself...oh wait, I just told you what you should do. LOL

  11. Nilsa - Wow your dad is a gem. On the flipside of this post, I'm sure it's not easy for parents to just let their children go off and create their own lives. I'm sure the shoulds are hard to hold in!

    Laura - Hahaha! I'm sure he pretends to be listening, but he's really just playing on his ipad.

    Sister - Just because your initials are MiLF doesn't mean you need to actually try to be one.

    Suzy - Hahaha! I guess I should have titled this post "You don't have to listen to me either!" ;)

  12. Loved this, such truth and powerful freedom in your words. I never really have been thankful for my veeeery distant relationship with most of my family, but perhaps I am a bit now.

  13. I love this post!
    I relate so much. I too, have a close-knit family. Not only do I hear their voices in my head, but they're at my doorstep almost everyday so I can hear those same words in person too. Hard to shut it all off sometimes. Lots of love flying around over here, and lots of opinions too. ;)

  14. Your therapist sounds like mine - awesome people.

    It's so HARD to re-wire my brain. But I'm getting there.

    Thanks for the reminder.



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