Written by Dr. Eric Perry, PhD
Image Credit: Pixabay
“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” ~
Like a faithful shadow on a sunny afternoon, we are accompanied throughout our lives by a constant inner monologue. This voice has been with us since childhood and reflects both conscious thoughts and unconscious beliefs. It may be positive, neutral or negative. Although difficult to study because inner speech is an internal process, there are two major theories as to how this internal monologue, also referred to as self-talk, is developed. Both are briefly discussed here.
According to Jean Piaget, a Swiss developmental psychologist, a child’s internal monologue is a form of self-talk that is egocentric and a reflection of the child’s inability to communicate with others. The child is not able to take on another’s point of view and this is reflected in their speech. As a child matures and notices the world does not revolve around them, their self-talk will begin to recede and their speech will begin to include the point of view of others.
Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky, a Russian developmental psychologist, proposed a different theory for internal monologue. He referred to this monologue as private speech. Vygotsky believed that we begin to utilize inner speech around the age of three as we learn to combine thoughts and language. Children in this stage will often talk out loud to themselves when faced with a difficult cognitive task. Vygotsky proposed that as children mature, this kind of private speech is internalized. This evolution from private speech, which is mainly auditory, to inner speech, that is language taking place without any outward manifestation of verbal speech, appears to be part of the normal human development. Thus, our voice which soothed and accompanied us in our childhood is still present as inner speech.
Regardless of the theory, it is vital to develop awareness of what our inner voice is consciously and unconsciously communicating to us. This inner monologue has the power to affect all aspects of our lives; including relationships, the perception of the world, physical and mental health and most importantly how we perceive ourselves.
I believe that initially, our internal voice is a positive guiding force, but with time and exposure to the world, it may take on a more negative and critical perspective. As children, this voice kept us company and helped us make sense of the world. It provided us with emotional support when needed and was a constant presence in our life. As a child, this inner voice propelled us to believe that anything was possible. The world was a place to be explored and discovered.
Take a moment and think back to when you were a child. Do you recall when your inner voice first pointed out that you were not good enough or that you didn’t matter? For most, the negative internal voice was non-existent during early childhood. You believed that you could achieve anything and everything. The majority of us develop the critical inner voice as we get older and are exposed to others being overly critical towards us. As adults, this critical inner voice will hold us back by convincing us that the world is predominately dangerous and unkind. It may constantly remind us about past failures and our perceived ineptness.
I am not suggesting that we should view the world as an unduly cheerful and safe place. I realize the world is far from the happiest place on earth. Nor am I suggesting that it is possible to live a life without criticism. I believe that to develop a healthy consciousness, we must learn how to best utilize this inner voice. It would be a mistake to treat our inner voice as simple background noise to our life. We must learn to actively engage with this voice in order to keep it positive and avoid letting the negative self-talk or negative core beliefs infiltrate our life.
It helps to identify your inner voice as that of your inner child. Much like a child, it needs to be taught rules and manners. It must be trained to be comfortable with silence in order to avoid constant unnecessary chatter. When your inner voice throws a tantrum and begins to tell you all the things that are wrong with you and your life, it must be met with kindness and compassion. Be mindful and validate what you are feeling but use your logic to do away with what is unnecessary and unproven criticism. For example, if your inner voice is telling you that you will never be able to get a job because you are a failure, acknowledge the origin of this thought. Perhaps it is coming from a place of fear or an old script from someone telling you this in your life. It is important to counter this thought logically. By thinking of the times when you did not feel like a failure you can make a strong argument that you are indeed not a failure.
The world is a difficult enough place without having an internal enemy who is always willing and ready to discuss your shortcomings. By taming your inner voice to focus on the good in your life and on your positive attributes, you can gain an ally in yourself. The one constant in your life is you. Learn to live peacefully with yourself by being kind and compassionate in your self-talk. With discipline and practice, this will become second nature and self-doubt and self-criticism will become something of the past. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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