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The Dialogical Self- Lessons from the Voices in My Head

Believe it or not, I’m an introvert. Always have been. I remember frequently getting asked as a child why I was so quiet. Aside from the fact that sometimes you just don’t have anything to say, which is ok, I was always just more comfortable in my head than speaking aloud. I understand it now to be anxiety, but anytime I’ve had to speak or perform in front of even a small group of people, I’ve gotten extremely nervous. My stomach starts turning, my heart races and pounds, and the voices in my mind begin to go crazy.

There’s one voice that points out all of the things that could go wrong (the worrier), another that’s noticing the details of everyone and everything in the room (the distracted/ADD). There’s a third voice that’s shyly trying to remain optimistic while unsuccessfully attempting to engage the others in positive self-talk (the often ignored pushover, still working to find strength in her voice).

At any given time, there’s a very loud internal war going on in my mind. The voices can get overwhelmingly boisterous as they fight for control. This serves as a constant distraction and can affect my mood and mental health.

Self-Awareness

I wouldn’t consider myself a psychologist if my study of human behavior didn’t apply to myself as well. Self-study can be the best way to get to know and understand oneself and the human mind, which I’ve learned through evaluating the “voices” (thoughts) in my head.

“… I am alone. I am the subject I know best”

Frida Kahlo

What I’ve learned through self-study is that there are many different aspects of personality. It’s more than just displaying different traits and emotions like being friendly, happy, angry, sad, etc. There are actual dominant, independent personalities that step forward to take the lead at times, based on situational needs.

This concept is called the Dialogical Self. There are many theories detailing the dialogical self, but essentially, it involves the creation of numerous personality types within one person, based on the diverse roles the person plays in various relationships in their lives.

As individuals, we can be parents, children, siblings, friends, lovers, partners, employees, and more. Different roles requires us to develop and exhibit different traits based on each separate relationship and experience. Our human interactions shape both how we interact with ourselves (inner dialogue), and how we interact with others (outer dialogue and relationships).

Considering all of the different relationships and experiences we’ve had throughout our lives, some of us have developed quite a diverse social system of personalities in our minds. The reason this social system is called the dialogical self, is because the personalities converse or engage in dialogue with one another.

We all have a central or baseline personality that combines aspects of our collective personality types. There are strengths and weaknesses in each personality type we possess, deriving from self-awareness, lessons learned, immaturity, and ego. The common goal and desire of each of our dialogical selves is self-preservation. All aspects of us want us to succeed. They will engage in discussion, reflection, and assessment to determine what actions are best in order for the whole self to achieve success.

We Are Our Own Worst Enemies

Problems arise when there is conflict or disagreement between the selves within us. Our different personality types can struggle to agree on whats best for the whole, while we feed individual parts of our personalities instead. This can manifest in the form of self-criticism, self-doubt, self-destruction, cognitive dissonance, etc. The purpose of the conflict is to serve as either a protective or defense mechanism to prevent us from getting hurt. The problem is that it can be based on feelings like fear rather than facts.

Feelings aren’t facts…

… yet we allow them to operate as such, and use them as justification to engage in internal conflict. Our feelings should be used to support our facts and decision making, not determine them.

Protective Measures

We have to understand when our fears are founded and realistic. When our self-talk is coming from a place of supported facts, or even intuition, pay attention to it! There are many times when we will tell ourselves that something is wrong, not to engage in something, not to get involved with a particular person, job, etc. This is an aspect of our personality and subconscious, picking up on facts that support the need to protect us.

“Something doesn’t feel right about him. He’s not trustworthy and can’t control his temper.”

Defense Mechanisms

When based on unrealistic fears, our dialogical selves are engaging in self-sabotage. It’s not completely intentional. Something has presented a red flag, been deemed dangerous, and must be avoided. The issue is, fears can be healthy and necessary. Starting a business and following a dream for example can be scary, but are necessary chances to take to secure success. However, fear can give us 100 reasons not to proceed. We may think that we’re protecting ourselves, but we may actually be blocking things that are meant for us, out of fear.

“I shouldn’t even try, I’m not good enough.”

This is why it’s important to have a relationship with, and understand the voices in your head. There may be versions of your dialogical selves that are leaders, have confidence, utilize caution, or operate with self-doubt. No single aspect of one’s personality is good or bad. It’s the intention, purpose, and action behind it.

Tuning into our dialogical self-talk and understanding whether the discussion is self-serving, will allow for us to operate with more self-awareness, growth, and with all parts of ourselves aligned toward success.

The inner conversations that are not serving to us will occur as well. Rather than trying to control or eliminate those voices and parts of our personality, we must learn to confront and comfort them, so that we can continue to take risks that serve us past our fears.

-Lilith Rose

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