By Maninder Cheema
Are the voices of your parents in your head your moral compass? Here is how you can get them to give you sound advice, says Maninder Cheema
I had been struggling for some months with a very critical inner dialogue, a sort of voice which was always present in the background and pounced on me the moment there was a pause in my train of thinking. I would begin to relax on a weekend, when this voice would stand over me and list out all the things I had to do at home and had been neglecting for months. If I ignored the voice and just relaxed, it would start listing out all the things that were pending at work, which made me so uncomfortable that I would immediately get up to do that housework. A forgotten appointment, a delayed payment, a binge of overeating, a skipped workout, everything invited a severe reprimand. It felt as if my parents had taken residence within me, even though I had been living away from them for close to two decades.
A few words on my parents – like so many Indian parents, they were strict, spare with praise and generous with criticism as they brought us up. Disapproval, reprimand and withdrawal of affection were familiar tools to get the children to obey. Without doubt, it was all with the best of intentions. The experience is common and repeated across millions of households. Almost every child is told ‘bad girl’ or ‘bad boy’ innumerable times during their childhood, over the most harmless things, just to get them to do their bidding.
The psyche adopts the voice of the parents as the voice of the Inner Parent. The inner adult voice within us which performs the role of giving us guidance, judgement, counselling, confidence in our abilities, the voice that criticises, keeps us on the straight and narrow, makes us feel ashamed and guilty for straying from it, sounds caution when we take risks, this is the voice of the Inner Parent. The Inner Father provides the voice of conscience, of judgement and of setting the boundaries. The Inner Mother provides the loving, nurturing voice which tells us there is someone to take care of us always. In most of us, the voices of the Inner Parents are the voices of our real parents.
Nag, nag, nag
Because these voices are modelled on our real parents, we continue to hear the criticisms and negative feedback we heard in childhood through our adult life. “You are no good… You will never amount to anything… These are but some negative voices we can continue to hear all our life, voices which destroy our confidence, sap our self-esteem and leave us feeling drained and depressed.
Fortunately, I discovered that it is possible to heal the critical inner parent and replace the voice of our reallife parents with the loving guiding voice of an ideal parent, the one you sometimes wished you had.
An ideal parent offers unconditional love, acceptance and nurturing. An ideal parent is compassionate, understanding, non-judgmental and offers safety and protection. An ideal parent offers guidance on right and wrong, on boundaries, but allows us to make our own choices. An ideal parent encourages us to take risks. An ideal parent is there to take care of us when we mess up and come home wounded and hurt.
Healing the critical Inner Parent
|The author lives in Mumbai and |
work with SEBI. In her spare time, she reads, writes, meditates, walks, runs and travels
The process of healing the critical Inner Parent is simple. I describe here the process I followed at home one day when I was all by myself. It requires you to first list out all the qualities you wish to have in your ideal parent. You can also think of a deity, a guru, a saint, a master or an angel who you think embodies the qualities of the ideal parent for you. It could even be a combination of qualities you admire in different guiding figures. I thought of one of the masters, who I identify most with. It is advisable to have separate visions of the ideal mother figure and ideal father figure.
After the vision of the ideal parent is clear, follow a simple exercise to adopt this vision as your inner parent. Sit quietly and bring your attention into yourself. If possible, use your imagination to surround yourself with a divine white light. Once you are encased in this protective and healing white light, invite your actual parents into your consciousness, thank them for everything they have done for you, forgive them for anything they may have done which has hurt you, and then release them into the light of the universe. This step helps to free up space within you, to invite the ideal inner parent.
After you have thanked, forgiven and released the real-life parents’ voices, visualise or imagine as clearly as you can, the vision of your ideal parents, invite them into your consciousness and ask them to be your inner mother/ father from then on, to guide you and nurture you for the rest of your life.
Once this adoption is done, amazingly, almost like Gandhi’s voice in Lage Raho Munnabhai, the inner parent takes on the voice of this ideal vision. Because usually, the vision you adopt as your inner parent is well known to you in some way or the other, the inner intelligence comes up with the answers the ideal parent would have given to the questions and situations you face in life.
I found a dramatic change in the voice of my inner father, as the voice changed from one which always said ‘No’ to a voice which said every time, ‘Why not? Try it out. Just remember the outside risk is…..’ It made a tremendous difference to my confidence as well as my equanimity. Formerly, I would do something new after a lot of inner tussle over whether I could do it or not. The new thing could be as simple as going to a party or a picnic. During the doing as well as afterwards, I was always looking for validation for whether I did the right thing or not. This affected the quality of my experience – I could not enjoy the activity fully and often felt guilty for enjoying myself.
Now there is surprising clarity about everything – what I should do, when I should do it, how I should do it, whose help I should seek. There is inner support for trying out new things. There is complete non-judgement about silly mistakes – no reprimand, no guilt, no shame. If I make a grammatical mistake in my speech before a large audience, I no longer feel like hiding behind the curtains. I notice my mistake and that’s it. No self-recrimination. It is indescribably liberating.
The ideal Inner Mother provides the perfect nurturing, love, compassion and understanding which helps you bloom into your best potential. The ideal Inner Father provides the perfect guidance which allows you to do what you want to while at the same time pointing out consequences and risks. The ideal parents are modelled on the heavenly father and mother and to have them as your inner guiding voices is to be blessed.
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