I read several articles recently that revealed some people do not have an inner voice. It seems that inside their heads, they don’t talk to themselves.
I find that astonishing. In the business of my daily life, I consider internal dialog as the essence of “me.”
I can’t fully wrap my head around the idea of a silent brain.
How do they think? Decide? Or, more importantly,—judge others?
Descartes said, “I think; therefore, I am.” And while we may assume other creatures “think,” without language, I’ve always considered the uniquely human version of “thought” to be inseparable from “words.”
In my mind, those words have a voice. And on some days I have to remind it to use its inside voice.
I didn’t think my internal voice was a design option. Quite the opposite, in fact, as my psychology education strongly suggested that our inner dialog is often the root of many mental health problems.
So you could have a pleasant voice, a crazy voice, a depressed voice, an evil voice, or a nagging voice. But no voice at all?
It lends a new perspective to consider that a “normal” individual might not have access to an inner dialog.
I’m not sure what I would do all day without the voices in my head.
There were five to start with, but I invited a sixth.
I know what you’re thinking—Unless you have no voice in your head, then I don’t know what you are thinking and apparently neither do you.
But hear me out on this multiple, yet not Sybil idea, as I promise, I’m not crazy. Well, no more insane than you.
I wasn’t really aware of the multiple voices. They are a recent discovery.
And to be clear, the voices are not Elvis, Jesus, the CIA, or Aliens.
(If it turns out they are, I will certainly write a post on it.)
Like most people, I assumed I possessed a single voice.
And it probably is, but the article is illustrative, so go with it.
The voice was just Me talking to Me. But self-study and focused self-awareness changed that perception.
It began with my renewed interest in self-development. Having experienced the rabbit hole a little mid-life depression could drag you down, I became primarily interested in the idea of emotional mind-mastery. I wished to understand the source of troublesome thoughts and feelings.
Topics such as the Law of Attraction, Growth Mindset, Positive Psychology, and Stoicism seems to offer varying degrees of answers. They all carry a central tenet that success and fulfillment rest heavily on our internal belief system.
How we choose to see ourselves, and the interaction of ourselves with the world ultimately determines the reality we live in.
In other words . . . Happiness, growth, fulfillment, success, motivation . . . It all starts in your head . . . And what you tell yourself about yourself will either make or break you.
As Henry Ford said, “whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you are correct.”
So, I started intently listening to that inner voice. Primarily through meditation, I focused on what I was saying about myself, others, and how I evaluated life’s changing conditions.
My first discovery was that often the message didn’t align with the reality of the situation. I could find positive and negative intent without the facts to support it.
I also found that at times I was especially hard on myself for the smallest of perceived failures.
My second discovery came through a realization that the “me” voice, the one seeking answers, was not always the one answering the questions.
The more considerable attention I paid to the “voice,” the more I became aware of either different voices or at least different versions of my inner chatter.
There was, of course, the Me voice. The voice of the present and the one that serves as the mediator between the external and internal world. But there were also other “Me’s” who had things to say.
And each seemed to have a specialty.
A topic they felt very comfortable speaking on.
That might sound a bit insane.
As a novelist, it feels less so because I create different speaking characters all the time. And as I’ve written, the difference between them was subtle—all Me and yet with different sources from which they pulled their scripts and unique emotions from which they spoke.
So, there is the Me voice, which requires no description as you encounter it each time I write an article.
But the others, they might be something that you recognize within your own daily thoughts. If I’m correct, then we all get to learn something about ourselves. If I’m incorrect, no worries, I hear that they serve milk and cookies after therapy.
So here are the four forms of what I call mental chatter:
1. Fear: It’s probably the oldest and most basic of the group. A hardwired and necessary survival mechanism it literally screams over any potential or actual change. It’s the voice that warns you “not to do it,” the one that is certain any risk is pretty much a bad idea. It is not entirely its own fault. That voice is working off an ancient genetic script. It doesn’t know the risk difference between say a lion and a job opportunity in a new city. Fear chatter simply believes that if we are safe and comfortable, we should do nothing to risk that regardless of the potential reward.
2. Ruminations: This is my favorite because I found it is often the biggest chatterbox in the group. Big R likes to worry about outcomes that may never occur and loves revisiting old wounds and slights. It can spend hours at bedtime visiting yesteryear to replay the scenarios and the “I should have said X.” Worry and regret are its bread and butter. I’ve become aware of how often it is still talking when I awake in the morning. Usually running through a dozen scenarios for the day. It truly is exhausting.
3. Ego: He seldom has much to say when we are alone. But try a new style, write an article you plan to publish, or pretty much anything that involves others, and ego will prattle on about looking stupid, being rejected, or humiliating yourself. It’s a lot of worry over being evaluated by others. And it provides a lot of “advice” on “how you need to look, act, and sound.”
4. Ghosts: I consider this to be the most dangerous of the chatter. The things it says are the deepest of my self-belief system. The most negative of things I secretly believe about myself. It speaks with grand authority and certainty. I find myself agreeing without consideration that these statements might not be accurate. In truth, it is just the voice of old evaluations. Many of these “this is who you are” proclamations came from others. Those made directly and those we perceived as the meaning behind the words spoken by others. The voice is relatively easy to recognize because it (like a Sith Lord) always speaks in absolutes. “I’m not smart enough, I’m fat, I’m not the type of person who, I can’t and I should.
Recognition, of course, is only half the battle.
Positivity, success, fulfillment, and self-acceptance is a daily fight.
Awareness helps, but I often find when I’ve let my guard down, I’m back to nodding along to the chatter. But that kind of nonsense goes on for shorter and shorter periods. And when I catch myself listening in agreement with these four-horsemen of my mind, I tend to laugh and correct the course.
(I laugh, as in a chuckle—I’m not walking around screaming like a loon)
Still, even knowing what they are up to, and even shutting them down can leave a residual of self-doubt.
Which is why I invited in the sixth voice.
The one who was on my side in the present.
The Great Parent voice.
The Great Parent is the voice of support and reason. It intercedes when the others prattle on with nonsense. The one that says, “Hey, it’s one bad day that doesn’t make you a loser. You’ll do better tomorrow.” Or, “don’t listen to that nonsense, you’re not that person.” And often, it’s there to remind me, “That’s what so-and-so wanted you to believe about yourself, it’s not true. It’s their pain, not yours.”
The Great Parent voice is one of gentle but firm accountability. It forgives the momentary digression from my dreams and aspirations. It’s supportive of getting back on track without the need for character assassination.
So maybe all this stuff is in my head. Maybe separately labeling them is unnecessary. There is certainly no scientific research to support my claims, but most of what we believe lacks the same, so there is that.
But try it out. See what chatter is filling your mind. Try and categorize the source. Most importantly, observe how many of these thoughts are valid and how many are just fear, ruminations, ego, or ghosts.