“Where do you get off thinking you’ll be successful? You’ll never make it!” screams a critical voice into your already uncertain head. That voice not only throws you off balance as you attempt something new but is quick to point out imperfections when you have an accomplishment. Arianna Huffington calls it “the obnoxious roommate in your head” that causes you to doubt yourself and question all your actions and decisions. Every woman has one, and like any roommate, each of us needs to establish some boundaries for our own peace of mind.
Neurologist, Louann Brizendine, author of “The Female Brain” says that the issue stems from physiology. The part of our brains responsible for picking up problems is larger and more influential in women so we are vigilant in our search for obstacles, examining every corner for things that could go wrong. Then we ruminate on every action attempting to head off complications and troubles before they grow.
This probably comes from our evolution as women are attuned to listen to infants and this carries over to our interactions with others as well. As a result we can be overly sensitive, giving power to that obnoxious roommate who suggests problems where there aren’t any.
Remember the hooker, played by Julia Roberts in the movie Pretty Woman? When her wealthy and influential client, played by Richard Gere, asked why she did this line of work, she answered that “she didn’t think much of herself.” Even though he listed her many positive characteristics she came back saying “the bad stuff is easier to believe.” She was a perfect example of a woman who gives way too much credence to the obnoxious roommate in her head.
That’s at one end of the spectrum. At the other, are women who have tamed their obnoxious roommate. It is an attribute of successful leaders, found the global consulting firm, McKinsey and Company. Their research established that female leaders thrive when they possess the power of “positive framing”, stating that, “successful women have a more constructive way to view their world.”
I see this all the time in mentorship relationships. When women are passed over or make strategic errors, they allow their obnoxious roommate to verbally castigate them. “Why did you say that? Why did you do that?” and on and on. Many women just can’t seem to do what a man would do and say to themselves – ‘fuggetaboutit!’
If your obnoxious roommate is taking up more than her fair share of the square footage in the apartment of your mind and making you miserable here’s a few strategies for dealing with her:
1) Challenge your roommate– If you listen to what she is telling you and find evidence to reinforce her negative comments, a molehill of insecurities will soon grow into a mountain. When she accuses you of being stupid and unappealing, reassure her that people are indeed interested in you. Find examples that counteract her assumptions and cite them back to her. For example, you might say, “I may not be smart in every department but we all have strengths and weaknesses. I have a light and I when I let it shine through I am valuable and appreciated. For example, remember the time…. (list specific examples) ”. Just like in real life if you stand up for yourself and say it with conviction you’ll find inner strength. Your obnoxious roommate will be deflated and will have no choice but to back down.
2) Tune out your roommate- When she begins her tirade, tell her you’ll discuss it later. She likely won’t quit but you can desensitize her comments by tuning her out and treating her comments like laundry. Imagine you are surrounded by three baskets. To your right is a red basket, to your left is a blue basket and behind you is a yellow basket. The red basket is for her warnings about the future, the blue basket for her recriminations about the past and the yellow basket for generally confusing comments. You can’t stop her remarks from flooding in, but you can put them in the proper basket when they arrive, which is very freeing. You don’t have to think about her admonishments and you don’t have to respond. Simply hum a pleasing melody while you are sorting through her remarks.
3) Pre-empt your roommate- Get up in the morning before she is awake and nurture yourself. Before she starts her criticism reassure yourself that you did well enough, that you deserve a good day and that you are going to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Then do loving things for yourself. When you are tired at work, take a break. Do some deep breathing at your desk. Revitalize with a snack and be sure to include something fresh. If something bad happens consider it a learning opportunity and think of the good that could come from the incident. Bradley Cooper did this effectively in the movie Silver Linings Playbook. Live your life with gratitude by focusing on the present moment and finding something to appreciate in the here and now. When you are smiling and appreciating life your roommate’s rants lose their impact.
When you start framing your thoughts in a positive way, you’ll discover your obnoxious roommate has less power than you thought. And when she realizes that she’ll begin to spend most of her time in her room, only coming out occasionally. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have to put her back in her place from time to time but she won’t be there to sabotage you on a daily basis. The freedom to be yourself and pursue the things that really matter to you without that obnoxious roommate second guessing you will clear your head and make your heart sing.