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Quieting the Voice of the Devil on Your Shoulder

Quieting the Voice of the Devil on Your ShoulderI often equate having schizophrenia to having a little devil on my shoulder that likes to whisper nasty stuff in my ear.

He’s a cunning little jerk, too. If he senses a vulnerability or the potential for anxiety he’ll start screaming.

In the eight years I’ve lived with the illness I’ve come to recognize these triggers and do a pretty good job of avoiding them. You can’t do it forever, though, and eventually the devil is gonna start screaming again.

Mainly he says things like, “They’re making fun of you!” or “They’re gonna laugh about you!” I take it in stride, though. I’m very good at not outwardly showing that I’m panicking on the inside.

The thing about it is, when you’ve heard everything the devil can say about you 1,000 times over it doesn’t have much of an effect anymore.

One of my favorite songs is by Ray Lamontagne. It’s a song called “Empty.” In it he sings the lyrics, “Well I looked my demons in the eye, laid bare my chest, said do your best destroy me. See I’ve been to hell and back so many times I must admit you kind of bore me.” It’s definitely an apt metaphor.

I pretty much know what the devil is going to say, and I pretty much know in what instances he’s going to say it. After living with it for so long, you come to almost expect it. Nevertheless, it’s still painful, so of course I want to quiet it.

Medications have made a major improvement, but aside from those, it’s taken a good deal of work.

The biggest and most influential thing I’ve done to quiet the devil’s voice was to unapologetically accept everything he says. This sounds counterintuitive at first. It makes sense that you’d fight it. But I’ve found that I just don’t have the energy for that.

When the devil says something nasty like “They’re making fun of you,” I just say to myself “I accept that they’re making fun of me.” It may or may not be true, but it makes it a lot easier to be comfortable with the voice and to move on to something else if you don’t spend all your time trying to fight it.

There’s a movement in pop psychology called “radical acceptance” and I think it draws on the same idea. If you’re OK with the devil’s criticism — or your own self-imposed criticism — it makes it a lot easier to be comfortable and to move on.

It’s important to be conscious of the fact that the human experience is made up of myriad circumstances, feelings and experiences. Learning to be comfortable with all of them is a major step in growing as a person.

Not only will accepting the hard stuff as it is make you comfortable in your own skin, but it will also condition you for potentially harder stuff down the road.

The point is, there are things in this life that we have no control over. There’s a point at which we have to be willing to let go of our own fervent desire to be in control and be OK with chaos.

Accepting the devil’s words took some work at first but it got easier every time I did it. Now it barely registers.

Quieting the Voice of the Devil on Your Shoulder

Michael Hedrick

Mike Hedrick is a writer and photographer in Boulder, CO. He has lived with schizophrenia for many years and his work has been published in Salon, Scientific American and The New York Times. His book is available here You can follow his blog on living with schizophrenia here

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APA Reference
Hedrick, M. (2018). Quieting the Voice of the Devil on Your Shoulder. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 20 Sep 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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