Turns out labeling the thoughts and feelings we experience makes us less crazy.
A few years ago I started naming the voices that live in my head. Polly the planner obsessively gets my ducks in a row. Helga the Holier-Than-Thou is absolutely certain how every one should live their life. Nora the naysayer is pragmatic and claims to see life as it really is. Now, before you send me a referral to a good psychiatrist, I was following the advice of a meditation teacher who has some evidence to back up this practice.
Researchers at the Brain Mapping Center at the UCLA school of medicine made the case that labeling calms the mind. In this study, subjects were shown pictures of faces expressing anger or fear and it turned out the fear centers in the subjects brains showed increased blood flow indicating their own fight/flight responses were being stimulated. However, when asked to label the expression they were seeing, the blood flow to fear centers diminished. AND parts of the pre-frontal cortex, a brain area that regulates emotions, showed increased blood flow.
Researchers concluded that labeling, which takes place in the higher regions of the brain, can regulate emotional responses, helping you to feel calmer. Polly keeps my life on track but she gets completely bent out of shape when one of the ducks goes AWOL – which makes her exhausting. Helga tends to put healthy meals on the table but she can get super preachy when she finds fast food containers in the garbage. Nora keeps me from making mistakes like chucking it all to be a ballerina, but she also tries to keep me small and tells me not to write blogs because people might find out what I’m REALLY like.
There’s also Miserable Martha; Complaining Calliope, Aster the Anxious…frankly, its crowded in here. Simply by naming them, they tend to sit down. They stop running the show. The gloriously freeing part is that I don’t have to fix them, or spend energy trying to get them speak differently or even to go away. They are here because sometimes they serve me well and because I am a human being who isn’t perfect. (Prudence the Perfectionist is having a hissy fit over that one). Labeling them reminds me they are not my identity. They are not the Truth of who I am. And when I remember that, I come home to my self. Home to the aspect of me that is loving and compassionate and forgiving and peaceful. This exists too and it is far larger and more powerful than all of the others because it is not alone and separate. It is connected to Life, to the larger Whole, to Source, to the Divine. I don’t create it or build it or sustain it – I need only align with it and allow it to flow to me and through me.
That is the greater truth of Who I am. What a relief.
Invitation: Start noticing and labeling the inner narratives and voices in your head and see if they quiet down a bit once you’ve got their number… and affirmed they are part of this present moment experience, but they are not your identity. (note: If I have inadvertently used your name in this post feel free to label one of your voices Karen the Crackpot).