Last Updated: November 1st, 2018


Where did the voice come from and why can’t I shut it up? Why is that voice so filled with self-judgments? And why can’t I ever seem to just turn it off?

For most people the mind has developed into a describing, comparing and judging machine. When I didn’t have any awareness I didn’t notice how busy it was all the time. When I noticed it, I just assumed that it was me thinking. I didn’t think of my thinking as judgmental; I just thought that my opinions were the right ones. Since I was comfortable with my opinions they didn’t bother me for a long time, but then in times of stress, when the voice in my head would keep me up at night, I started noticing things were out of balance.

Most have this type of chatter in their mind. Some people identify with it, and feel it is them. Others realize that the mind has taken on a life of its own and decide to do something about it.

One of the best ways to quiet the Voice is to realize where it came from and what it’s doing there. Understanding the origin of the Voice allows you to let go of judgmental reactions during this process. Understanding our own thinking is so important that my mentor Don Miguel Ruiz wrote The Voice of Knowledge devoted to this subject.

Understanding the Voice in your head

One of the first steps to eliminating self-judgments and chatter is to recognize that the voice in your head never means you any harm. It may be the source of self-criticism and unkind comments, but that was never its intent. Believe it or not, it originally developed to help us feel emotionally safe and happy.

The inner voice of self-judgment develops in a young mind with the merging of memory and logic. Before memory and logic developed, we stayed in the present moment where only the desire to express ourselves exists. Before memory and logic, if we wanted to go outside and play, but mom had told us to pick up our toys, we might just run out and play. But, as memory and logic developed, we could recall mom scolding us in the past for not cleaning up our toys.

With logic our mind would link the cause with the painful effect of being punished. Then when running outside to play we would see our toys and a little voice in our head would remind us, “I should pick those up.” The Voice was our memory telling us how to avoid the emotional pain of punishment.

Sometimes after being punished or feeling something unpleasant, an agreement like, “I should have picked up my toys,” gets stored in the memory. The Voice was reminding us how be happy. Our memory was also storing all the suggestions from the Voice to be repeated back to us when necessary. We learned to follow the Voice to avoid breaking other people’s rules that would get us punished. The Voice couldn’t know the future, but it echoed a rule from the past about what would cause us pain. In this way the Voice always lives in the past and projects assumptions of the future. It keeps us from experiencing the present moment.

The Voice also told us how to receive attention and love, “I should…clean up my room, eat my vegetables, be quiet, stay in line and get good grades.” Do these things and people will like you, accept you and love you. Do these things and you will be happy. The Voice echoed all the right rules based on the punishments and rewards stored in memory.

As a young child, we saw adults as very unpredictable, so we began to trust the little voice in our head more than anyone else. Even our parents who loved us couldn’t be completely trusted because they would also punish us if we did something wrong. Maybe we got blamed and punished for what our brother did, and concluded that we couldn’t trust mom or dad with the truth. The voice in our head was the guide to emotional safety in a world of bigger people who had the power to punish us and take away our rewards.

We invested a lot of faith in the Voice as something we could trust in an uncertain world. It became a Guardian Angel speaking in our mind telling us what to do. We gave it great authority and power over our choices and trusted it to be right.

The Voice learned to look at our past and interpret what we “should have done” and “shouldn’t have done.” It gave us advice about our future and what we “should do,” and “should be.” Its opinion was built with the intelligence of our own logic. It drew on every memory for evidence. Later in life the voice sounds like us speaking and thinking when it’s only the echoes of memory that have come alive. Sometimes we mistakenly put our trust in the voice from memory and think we are trusting our Self. We lose our identity and follow the rules of should and shouldn’t.

We create problems as we get older if we continue to live this way. When we were young our emotional well-being was based on how other people reacted to us. We created logic rules that were based on the rewards and punishments given out by others, but as we got older people didn’t punish and reward us the same way.

We would work hard at something, but no one would notice and no one would reward us. At the same time we might feel a fear or nervousness that someone would do something against us if we didn’t please them. Wondering about what other people think of us is a clue to these past patterns of concern.

Other problems develop with faulty logic and illusions in the mind

Problems also arise because many rules in the mind were based on faulty assumptions. Mom might be upset at something else in her life but snap at us when we asked for something. The interpretation from the voice would say, “I shouldn’t ask for what I want.” We incorrectly assume that we were at fault and store that agreement in memory.

Perhaps mom is kind and wants to say yes, but has the good sense not to give us the pony that we ask for. Our disappointment is painful and the logic gets distorted with the agreement, “Asking for what I want only leads to pain.”

The mind mistakenly assumes asking was the cause. The Voice wouldn’t usually allow other people to be responsible for our emotions. It assumed that everything was about us and provided another rule to follow. Even if it was about someone else, “she shouldn’t be that way,” memory stored that rule for us to follow as well.

If we had a broken heart the Voice would make rules so we didn’t get hurt again. It would declare, “All men are…” or “women are all the same.” It would swear off a whole gender as a solution to not feeling emotionally hurt. “Falling in love just leads to heartbreak.” It made declarations not based on truth. Later in life the rules make us afraid of expressing our love and doing what we want.

There was no other part of our mind monitoring it for exaggerations and common sense in those moments. We had trusted its logic implicitly for so many years we didn’t question the faulty logic. We agreed to the rules without considering how it might limit our happiness and choices for the rest of our life.

Perhaps a second heartbreak would bring a harsh criticism such as, “I knew better and I didn’t listen to myself.” “I am such an idiot.” As we got older we learned to accept harsher and harsher comments from the Voice. Accepting the criticism might make us obey the rules so we didn’t get hurt anymore.

By this logic, following the rules of the punishing voice appear to be the path to emotional safety and happiness. Sometimes as adults we become so busy following the rules that we don’t stop to wonder if they are true. No other part of our mind has been assigned to limit self-criticism. We continue to live in that early paradigm where the voice in our head was there to help us be happy even when it isn’t true anymore.

We invested our faith in the Voice for so long that it took on a life of its own. It runs repeatedly with self-judgments and chatter completely separate from us. It is no longer a Guardian Angel. It is largely our own voice programmed into memory so we don’t recognize it as a separate entity. We usually don’t see it as a separate being until we’re stressed and can’t sleep at night because of its chatter.

We spend our energy trying to satisfy its rules hardly noticing that many of those rules contradict each other. “We should go after that promotion” conflicts with “I’m not comfortable with that much responsibility.” “I want to ask her out,” conflicts with fear of her saying no. Amidst this mental chaos we forget that all the rules were intended to bring us happiness. Yet emotions like love and joy hardly have room to be felt amidst the incessant chatter of what we should and shouldn’t do.

Freeing ourselves from the fallen angel

For some people the life crisis comes when they find out they followed all the rules in their mind and didn’t end up happy like their little voice assumed they would. For others, midlife crisis and disillusionment may not even be enough to challenge the false rules in their heads. They might just make new rules and opt for new toys or a new mate instead.

The reality is that the Voice in your head does not know how to be happy. It only knows what it stored in memory from the past about how other people would react. It knows how we should have behaved in order to get the best reaction from people. It has knowledge of what we have to do for others to accept us. The voice also has fear of what will happen if we don’t follow the rules. The voice does not know how to express love or joy, or laugh. The critical voice in your head does not know what to do in order for you to accept yourself.

We can free ourselves from the faulty logic of the mind by choosing not to believe its rules anymore. But the Voice will not go easily. Just the thought of being without that Voice can bring up fears. We are powerful creators and have made it strong by investing our faith in it for many years. Even though you can’t seem to move it at times it’s not stronger than you. It’s like a large bush in your garden that has been there for years and grown roots. You may not be able to pull it out with your hands in a day, but with some tools and time you can clear it away. It may appear stronger in a moment, but you have time, intent, and faith on your side.

We will challenge the rules when we’re tired of being unhappy. We will let go of the mind when we no longer accept the illusion of emotional safety that it offers. We will challenge the voice in our head when the fear of suffering under its faulty logic is greater than the fear of being without it. We will defy the faulty logic when we realize it’s based on fear and we don’t want to be afraid anymore. Our desire to be happy is the force that will propel us to personal freedom from the voice in our head.

The path to emotional integrity and harmony with your mind is through awareness, acceptance, and forgiveness. We begin to discover, for the first time, that our happiness has little to do with other people’s reactions and more to do with expressing our own joy. The rules that the Voice has you follow do not usually direct you to follow your heart and do what you love. Fortunately there’s a lot more to our being than just the thinking voice. We have many other ways to overcome the Voice and be happy.

Let go of the judgments about the Voice

Whether you realize it or not the voice in your head has been doing the very best it could to guide you towards happiness. Understanding this is a big step towards quieting that Voice, allowing you to let go of your complaints and judgments about the fallen angel. Recognizing that it did the very best that it could will break the judgments you have about your mind. With an understanding that it never meant you any harm comes the opportunity for acceptance and compassion. Acceptance and compassion for your self is an important first step towards the redemption of a fallen angel that lives in your head.

Gary van Warmerdam has studied with Don Miguel Ruiz since 1994. He co-developed and taught the Four Agreements Facilitators training at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY and the Crossings in Austin, Texas. You can contact Gary through his websites and

image: Mysticum Pixel (Creative Commons BY-NC)