Introducing Charlie

I’ve already introduced you to Annie and Betty, two of the voices in my head. Well, if Annie is a small child, excitable but easily scared, and Betty is the timid and worrying adult, then Charlie is the neurotic one. He is completely paranoid. He is the voice that, if given a scenario of a family member being five minutes late home, has come up with at least ten different reasons for their tardiness within the blink of an eye, each worse than the previous one. He’s the one who always looks for the very worst in every situation, and revels in the times he predicts correctly. Given any situation, he can immediately pull the worst out of it and present it for my delectation and delight.

Charlie is the one who says: “What’s the point? You’ll never get anywhere anyway, so don’t waste your energy. You’re not worth the effort. You’re in your place, and you need to stay there.” He tells me that I’m not allowed to feel happy, because there’s bound to be something nasty coming along, and I can only stave it off by accepting the misery now and rejecting happiness. He tells me that I don’t deserve happiness, that my role is only to satisfy others, never to feel satisfied myself. He’s the one that tells me I need to spend all my time worrying so that bad things don’t happen, and that any appearance of success is an illusion, to be shattered the moment I embrace it.

He’s a ball and chain. He keeps me anchored, and tries to persuade me that I’m in the place I should be. He can shout me down until I hide, cowering, in a corner, reluctant to venture out into the big bad world. One story I heard was of crabs in a bucket – you try to lift a crab out, and all the rest of them grab onto him and refuse to let go, keeping him in the bucket. Well, Charlie is definitely a large crab.

He’s also boring and repetitive. He will capture a phrase, sometimes from a song and sometimes just a destructive attitude, and will repeat it over and over again, like a mantra, making it hard to think past him. It’s hard to make positive choices when all you can hear is “you’re a fraud and you know it” or similar.

Charlie, like all people, has a positive side: in his case, he has a lot of imagination, so although he usually comes up with negative suggestions, still I hesitate to squash him completely. His favourite game is What-If. He’s fantastic when it comes to making up stories – although being Charlie, it’s not that simple. When you have a good idea, but it involves writing something negative, and you have Charlie whispering that writing it will make it come true, it leads to a lot of tension.

He’s paranoid. He’s the one that tells me not to think too hard about my PIN as I enter it into the cash machine, in case someone can mind-read it. He’s the one that says any bad attitude around is aimed at me and my fault, that strangers around me are enemies and I mustn’t provoke them. He’s the one that finds my element of blame in anything that happens and magnifies it until it overwhelms me.

I think I’ve been listening to Charlie far too much in my life. Maybe if I can force him to be quiet for a while I can find another voice inside, a positive one who cheers me on and encourages me, who always sees the best in things. And I think I’m starting to figure out who that voice is. Maybe one day I’ll even know him well enough to introduce him to you.


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