My Inner Voice

So in this month’s Harper’s Magazine there is a meditation on the inner voice (“The Inner Voice”, Denise Riley), which, of course, lead me to contemplate my own inner voice:

I had been aware of, but with contemplation, formally determined that my inner voice is a a capricious, vindictive, violent & overly critical voice, constantly dogging me. My relationship with my inner voice is not a terribly happy one. Walking around, it’ll say such things “You’re going to trip. Your hair looks stupid. He’s secretly laughing at you. That car’s going to hit you.” etc. At work, it echoes and amplifies all my doubts about my capabilities: “You can’t do this. You’re a fraud. See? all these bugs? You can’t do this. That’s a bad idea. You’ll never finish. Why bother even starting?” (Of course, this raises the question: does my inner voice echo my doubts, or are they my doubts? Which stems from which?).

Now, I’m an anxious guy. I’m shy, I constantly doubt myself. I spend a lot of time “in my head”, in dialogue with my inner voice about my ability to do anything. In times of high stress, this inner voice has the stage to itself, a running soliloquy of doubts & insults. When I’m feeling analytical (or emotionally removed), it is the cold, uncompromising voice of reason that I often use to determine how to proceed. It’s what allows me to argue with people, and sadly, allows me to be horribly cruel in those rare times I get angry.

The astute reader will note that I speak of my inner voice as if it is not me. And in many ways, I’ve never considered my inner voice to be “me”. I’m a kind, laid-back, happy guy. I’m smart, confident, moderately successful. All things that are seemingly opposite to my inner voice. A correllary effect of never really thinking of my inner voice as “me” (and note: I hold conversations with my inner voice, wherein I’ll defend myself to this inner voice. So do I think have another inner voice? Or is that my conscious thought vs. my inner voice being internalized vocalizations (if it can be called that. We’ll do that, to avoid a huge can of philosophical worms) of my subconscious. I was talking to Day about this today, and he immediately said to me “You should work on changing your inner voice.” And this idea is so alien to me. Change my inner voice? How? It’s not like I control it. It’s not really me. But of course, if it’s interal to my own head, it must be me. So, then, I should be able to alter my inner voice, improve my relationship with it, and so on. But how I’d do that, I’ve no idea.

A last thought. As a child, I had to consciously decide to “fit in” and learn social norms. Most things don’t come easily to me, and I have to remember to do things like say “hello” when meeting someone, or shake a proffered hand, or things like this. My inner voice has, for as long as I can remember, been the voice that reminds me to do these things. So I suppose that it does do some good. But I’ve always, as long as I’ve been aware of it, been terrified of becoming schizophrenic. Perhaps because my inner voice is so dark, I’ve assumed that should I suddenly get other voices, while losing the ability to tell that they’re not real, nor do they need to be listened to (I don’t actually know how schizophrenia really works, but this is my imagined scenario), that I could be quite dangerous to myself and others.

I wonder if my dark inner voice is related to why so many of my dreams are so dark? What’s your inner voice like?