FACE IT: Your Inner Dialogues Speak Volumes

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

When last we spoke, I had mentioned the "uh oh moments" that Boomer-sized women have been experiencing. (The wrinkling skin that won't be denied; the first time others' eyes show no interest; the child who innocently asks, as mine did, "Mommy, why you have those stripes on your forehead"?) Recognizing those moments is Step One in the psychological guide I recently co-wrote with two former models, now Boomer-aged psychotherapists. Step Two has to do with listening to our internal dialogues.

I confess that before I started working on the book, I had never heard of the term. This is likely due to my lack of time--not that I wouldn't benefit-- on a shrink's couch. (Unless you count Gabriel Byrne's.) Others are obviously more tuned in. Last year in the middle of a Paul Simon concert, a fan yelled out, "I love you, Paul!" to which he responded, "If you could only hear my inner dialogues about now." In his memoir, tennis star Andre Agassi speaks of a low point in his life, on and off the court, when he told himself daily it was time to change: "For once I didn't hear the nagging self doubt that followed every personal resolution," he recalled.

It should be pretty clear by now that these IDs are rarely of the self congratulatory variety. More often we use them to scold and judge ourselves. I know mine rarely take a breather, even in the middle of my downward dogs, let alone the wee hours of the morning. Well, it turns out that these interior ramblings can be used as a healthy psychological tool, not only for vertically challenged genius songwriters and slumping athletes, but particularly by WOMEN LIKE US who assumed we'd stay forever young and believed we were far too evolved to care.

"The running commentaries played inside our heads relate to how we see ourselves and how we believe others see us," explains Dr. Vivian Diller. "When women reach midlife and their looks change, self criticism increases." Ever find yourself silently uttering things like, "I know he's looking at these bags under my eyes" or "she looks so much better than me?" Are these thoughts the result of a mother for whom you were never pretty enough? Or of watching Nicole Kidman age Benjamin Button style?

"We encourage women to listen carefully to the words and the tone," adds Dr. Jill Muir-Sukenick. "Are these words they've heard from figures in their past? Do they come from cultural expectations that are impossible to meet? Our goal is to shift these critical dialogues to more receptive ones."

The therapists ask female patients, who may be experiencing seemingly unrelated symptoms, (lack of sleep, anxiety, marital woes) to verbalize their most consistent inner dialogues. Both doctor and patient are often amazed how many deal with aging. Once the feelings behind the words are allowed to come out, clarity begins to happen. "A woman can't have any objectivity about her thoughts or self image until she "hears" herself," says Dr. Muir-Sukenick. "Once she's had the opportunity to do that, she can re-frame the lens through which she sees herself and the content of what she says."

Like all aging-related issues, there is comfort in knowing that millions of others may not be playing your exact song, but have hit lists of their own. The two therapists treat many former models and dancers who tell themselves constantly that they have aged out and feel worthless. Hillary Clinton's IDs could likely chart an entire movement: "I'll stand by him this time." "I am still here but this time I am publicly pissed." "Does he really want me to get this nomination?" "That head of state is kind of cute..."

De-coding our dangling conversations is not the psychological answer to why so many otherwise accomplished and fulfilled women are having such a difficult time with our new invisibility. It is part of a process, just one step (of six in our book) on the road to more graceful aging. "We need to rewrite our internal dialogues with a gentler voice, addressing ourselves the way we might talk to a friend we care about," says Dr. Diller. "If all women were to practice replaying these new dialogues in our heads, we might see ourselves and each other as more attractive as we age."

Think of it as a twist on the old adage: If you can't say something nice to yourself.....well, no one else will say it either.

FACE IT: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change by Vivian Diller, Ph.D, with Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D. and edited by Michele Willens is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances. As models turned psychotherapists, Diller and Sukenick have had the opportunity to examine the world of beauty from two very different vantage points. This unique perspective helped them develop a six-step program that begins with recognizing "uh-oh" moments that reveal the reality of changing looks, and goes on to identify the masks used to cover deeper issues and define the role beauty plays in a woman's life, and ends with bidding adieu to old definitions of beauty, so women can enjoy their appearance--at any age!

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