What Is The Internal Narrative Phenomenon?

image source: Shutterstock
image source: Shutterstock
  • Inner narratives fuse our conscious reflections and unconscious biases and beliefs.
  • Our inner narratives exist on a spectrum, taking on both verbal and visual forms.
  • Inner narratives are heavily influenced by internal and external factors, like genetics, environment, and personal experiences.

That little voice in your head - have you given much thought to what it says?  Or rather, what it doesn't say?  A recent post to Twitter has suddenly made people start to question what their inner narrative sounds like, and based on the viral tweet's nearly 30,000 replies, it's become clear that the ways in which our internal reflections manifest may be more different than we previously thought.

What Is An Inner Narrative?

An inner narrative, also referred to as an internal monologue or self-talk, is the voice a person hears in their head while they are consciously attempting to "think something through."  This voice is used by the brain as a constructive tool to facilitate cognitive and emotional processing, and is influenced by both our conscious and subconscious views of the world.  Extensive research has demonstrated that our individual personalities and experiences can drastically shape these verbal monologues.

What Tweet Initiated The Inner Narrative Phenomenon?

A viral tweet by @KylePlantEmoji provided the Twitterverse with a brief psychology lesson, suggesting that our inner voices not only sound different from each other, but some don't "speak" at all: "Fun fact: some people have an internal narrative and some don't As in, some people's thoughts are like sentences they "hear", and some people just have abstract non-verbal thoughts, and have to consciously verbalize them And most people aren't aware of the other type of person."

Thousands of the responses to the tweet suggested that people simply couldn't imagine an inner narrative that didn't resemble the "default setting" in their brains.

What IS The Default Setting In Our Brains?

Like most aspects of life, our inner narratives exist in a spectrum; the majority of the population has both visual and verbal internal reflections.  Whether they be in the form of verbal ponderings or abstract concepts, both types of inner narratives are normal and common. 

Linguist John McWhorter explains the phenomenon, "When we utter a word, we cannot help but mentally see an image of its written version.  In our heads, what we have said is that particular sequence of written symbols.  When we say "dog," a little picture of that word flashes through our minds, Sesame Street-style.  Imagine saying "dog" and only thinking of a canine, but not thinking of the written word.  If you're reading this book, it follows that you couldn't pull this off even at gunpoint."

What Does The Science Say?

Clinical psychologist Curtis Reisinger, Ph.D., explained to The New York Post that there actually are more than merely two types of inner narratives.  He clarified that internal dialogue can only be established once a child develops verbal communication skills, has learned words and can form sentences.  A wide variety of external and internal elements play a role in molding one's inner narrative, like environment, genetics, injuries, and trauma.

Is A Certain Type of inner Narrative More Beneficial?

Reisinger pointed out that having one type of inner narrative isn't necessarily more advantageous, and the type of narrative that we use primarily depends upon circumstance.  He stated, "Sometimes the inner dialogue is not your best friend.  A lot of people like to use the scenario of your mother or father yelling at you and incorporate that as part of the internal monologue. But it’s all variable. Your inner voice can also be a coaching or mentoring one.”

The Bottom Line?

Don't lose sleep over what your inner voice sounds like (or what you think it should sound like).  Reisinger's helpful tip to concerned contemplaters? "It’s not as black-and-white as the tweet would suggest," he said.  "How do you know what you don’t know if you’ve never known it?”


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