My two-year-old grandson, Oliver, was visiting last Sunday evening. And he’s a chatterbox. To their credit, Oliver’s parents are paying a lot of attention to his (and his older sister’s) self-talk. His mom tells me that she interprets his chatter as verbalization of his internal monologue. Oliver is sorting out who he is and how he fits into the world around him.
Some of my grandson’s words aren’t totally interpretable. But they’re there, and he knows what they mean. His Knower/Judger is starting to develop, and the inner chorus he develops now will set the soundtrack for his life.
As a literary tool, internal monologue is used by fiction writers to help readers get inside the heads of their characters: “Wow,” she thought to herself, “I’d never be able to get that far.”
You can see how that rule will affect the character’s life. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” She thinks she can’t. Her self-talk has come to this conclusion in this moment, but the decision to come to this conclusion was made years ago. And it’s embedded in her inner monologue. She’ll trundle it out again and again as she faces challenges.
Inner monologues play the same role in the real world. When they speak in absolutes (always, never, clearly, etc.), I see them as reciting a “rule.”
I have often referred to this type of internal monologue as “head trash.” But I suppose it’s only head trash when it’s not getting its author what he or she really wants. I could also hypothesize the existence of “head gold”…internal dialogue that supports people’s belief in their ability to accomplish anything.
Picture a sweat-inducing event. You’re about to give a big sales presentation, write a final exam, propose marriage to your girlfriend, deliver a speech in front of 1,500 people. In preparation for this momentous occasion, you seek counsel from a couple of friends. You could use a little shoring up before diving over the brink.
Debbie Downer gives you the “What the hell are you doing here?” speech. “You aren’t prepared for this. The (prospect, audience, girlfriend, professor) is not going to accept your effort. You’ve never been able to do this. Why do you think you can do this now?” Perhaps Debbie sounds like someone who’s affected your life in the past…parent, sibling, teacher?
Jerry Jump-Up pats you on the back and shares his observations. “You got this,” he tells you. “You’ve practiced this (speech, presentation, proposal) dozens of times. You got a good night’s sleep and have a smile on your face. It’s a done deal…forgone conclusion…now get in there.” I’m hoping Jerry sounds like someone who’s affected your life, from the same pool of influencers…parent, sibling, teacher?
My grandson, Oliver, is surrounded by people who will influence his future internal monologue. We play a very important role in the development of his K/J, because he’ll make the decisions about the nature of this monologue from our responses to his stream-of-consciousness conversations. We help to define whether it’s head trash or head gold.
So which end of the spectrum of internal monologues are we building in—Debbie or Jerry? Who’s going to be in his corner when the chips are down?