Donna W.

Naming the committee and recognizing the members’ voices:

My mother, Florence

Act like a lady. Don’t make a scene. Don’t make me ashamed of you. I wish I had half the things you have when I was your age. Don’t make me sorry (I look you shopping with me, I cooked you this delicious dinner, I brought you into this world).

It’s hard to be angry with her, though, because she also told me: You are so beautiful. You are so talented. You are my precious girl. The messages were very conflicting.

My father, Harold

You don’t have the sense you were born with. You’ll send your mother and me to the poorhouse. Making money and building a solid life for yourself is more important than liking your job. Choose a career and stick with it; don’t go changing horses in midstream.

But he also told me things that showed he loved me: See the world before you settle down. Get the best education you possibly can. Again, he leavened the negative with some positives.

My sister, Jean, who majored in art

Artists have to suffer to make good art. I gave birth to two children and raised them as a single mom, but you took the easy way out and didn’t have kids; you’re selfish. You have a husband and a career that pays you good money; you should be so grateful and never, ever complain about anything.

In reality, she’s never said any of these things (except for the first one), but I sense she feels these things and holds grudges against me.

My husband

It was my dream to move to the country and buy land and build a house where I could have a workshop, but I’m giving all that up because you want to stay in this overcrowded place. I’m worried about having enough money for our retirement – someone has to. I love you more than you love me.

In reality, he’s said none of these things; these charges are all manufactured in my head.

Looking back over what I’ve written, I’m aware that so much of what the committee in my head tells me, even some of those things I attributed to my parents, as never actually said. And now I’m hearing another condemning voice in my head, which I’ve heard from many people over the course of my life, including therapists: You are your own worst enemy. Why do I sabotage myself in this way, with imagined recriminations? If I can’t silence these voices, can I at least stop listening to them and allowing them to short-circuit me? Can I consider realizing that there’s no basis in fact for many of these statements grounds for a start toward moving beyond them?