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Elude Your Inner Censor

By Dave Fox

Writing about your outer journey is often easier than writing about your inner journey because of a little creature running around inside your head called your “Inner Censor.”

Your inner censor is there to protect you from your own mind. He or she means well, but most of us have overzealous inner censors — hyper little guys who get nervous when we get too close to our thoughts. Our inner censors are like overprotective parents who won’t let us go out and play because something bad might happen.

Think of your mind as an iceberg. Ten percent is above water. The other 90 percent is submerged. The part above water is your conscious mind. The submerged part consists of things you are not thinking about right now.

Your inner censor’s job is to patrol the waters around the submerged part of the iceberg, snorkel in hand, ready to dive down and drag you back to the water’s surface if you try to jump in. He doesn’t want you to go beneath the water level, for fear that you might get hurt down there. But unlike swimming around a real iceberg, it’s safe to dive deep into your mind. Sometimes it’s scary. Sometimes it’s painful. But your thoughts won’t hurt you. On the contrary, going for a dive and exploring what’s down there gives you a new perspective on yourself. You might find things you like that you didn’t know were there.

The exposed part of your mental iceberg contains everything you’re aware of at this moment. As you sit and read this article, you might be picturing an iceberg, or your inner censor. If you’re reading this article online, you are aware of your computer monitor, the chair you’re sitting in, perhaps some clutter around you.

Just below the surface, in the shallow depths of your subconscious, are mundane things you can quickly bring to the surface without effort. You probably weren’t thinking about what you ate for breakfast as you started reading this (unless you’re eating it right now). It was below the level of your immediate awareness. But now that I’ve mentioned it, it has risen to the surface. You have millions of other benign thoughts swimming in your mind such as what you did last weekend, upcoming appointments, or friends’ birthdays. These thoughts are okay with your Inner Censor. He’ll let them through.

Deeper beneath the surface, your Inner Censor gets more selective about what he’s willing to let slip past. We’ve all had traumas in our lives of one kind or another — things that are painful to recollect. Our Inner Censor does what he can to limit those thoughts. But when we keep uncomfortable thoughts down in our subconscious mind rather than facing them head-on, they tend to stay trapped inside our heads, and they surface in ways we’re not aware of.

When I was six, I was knocked down and terrorized by a neighborhood puppy. He devoured my jacket but fortunately left my body intact. I wasn’t hurt, but for two decades afterward, I was afraid of dogs. It wasn’t until I started dating someone with a dog that I got over my fear.

My girlfriend at the time couldn’t understand why I got so hyper around Kizmet, her friendly Golden Retriever. “Were you ever attacked by a dog?” she asked me.

I told her I wasn’t. The event from 20 years earlier didn’t surface right away. Then a week later, I remembered Tuffy, the jacket-eating mutt from my childhood, and something clicked. Kizmet wasn’t going to attack me, nor were the vast majority of other dogs I had shied away from for so many years. A few months later, I was challenging Kizzie to wrestling matches, letting her knock me down and chew on my arm, and laughing hysterically at our new game. Once I figured out that my fear had come from one isolated incident, and that most dogs were not as crazy as Tuffy, Kizmet and I became great friends.

My childhood dog attack hadn’t been so severe that I had wiped it from my memory altogether. But my Inner Censor was only letting me think about it in a limited context. He would only let parts of the memory surface — the parts that told me dogs were dangerous.

There’s something else our Inner Censor tries to repress that’s even bigger than past memories. He or she tries to hold back parts of our personalities. As the article on Foreign Culture as a Backdrop for Self-Discovery explains, when we travel, we’re stirring up the waters in our mind. An opportunity is there for hidden parts of our personalities to emerge.

But we’ve been conditioned to maintain our own personal status quo. We have learned behaviors throughout our lives from parents, teachers, peers, and our local cultures. When we travel away from these influences, we have more freedom to try on new personalities and see who we become.

This is where travel journaling becomes so powerful. When these hidden parts of us emerge, they do so cautiously. It’s easy for us to not notice them. Journaling about our thoughts and feelings helps us recognize our changes. Putting these things on paper breathes life into our long-lost personality traits.

Published on Thursday, January 1, 2004

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