Today I Learned That Not Everyone Has An Internal Monologue And It Has Ruined My Day.

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My day was completely ruined yesterday when I stumbled upon a fun fact that absolutely obliterated my mind. I saw this tweet yesterday that said that not everyone has an internal monologue in their head. All my life, I could hear my voice in my head and speak in full sentences as if I was talking out loud. I thought everyone experienced this, so I did not believe that it could be true at that time.

Literally the first person I asked was a classmate of mine who said that she can not “hear” her voice in her mind. I asked her if she could have a conversation with herself in her head and she looked at me funny like I was the weird one in this situation. So I began to become more intrigued. Most people I asked said that they have this internal monologue that is running rampant throughout the day. However, every once in a while, someone would say that they don’t experience this.  

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My life began to slowly spiral out of control with millions of questions. How do they get through the day? How do they read? How do they make decisions between choice A and choice B? My friend described it as “concept maps” that she sees in her brain. Another friend says that she literally sees the words in her head if she is trying to think about something. I was taking ibuprofen at this point in the day because my brain was literally unable to comprehend this revelation. How have I made it 25 years in life without realizing that people don’t think like me? 

NoUkL6drTiahwkMY0qqBJQ_thumb_13d6.jpgI posted a poll on instagram to get a more accurate assessment of the situation. Currently 91 people have responded that they have an internal monologue and 18 people reported that they do not have this. I began asking those people questions about the things that they experience and it is quite different from the majority.

I would tell them that I could look at myself in the mirror and have a full blown telepathic conversation with myself without opening my mouth and they responded as if I had schizophrenia. One person even mentioned that when they do voice overs in movies of people’s thoughts, they “wished that it was real.”

gfva7cPSQEGZvIHGIM0vlg_thumb_13e5And to their surprise, they did not know that the majority of people do in fact experience that echoey voice in their head that is portrayed in TV and film. Another person said that if they tried to have a conversation with themselves in the mirror, they would have to speak out loud because they can’t physically do it inside of their mind. 

 I started posting screenshots of these conversations on my instagram and my inbox started UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_13e2to flood with people responding to my “investigation.” Many people were reassuring me that I was not crazy for having an internal monologue, while others were as absolutely mind blown as I was. People were telling me that I ruined their day and that they now do not understand anything about life. Maybe you are all just a figment of my imagination, but regardless, yesterday made reality seem even more skewed. 

How do they think? How does this affect their relationships, jobs, experiences, education? How has this not been mentioned to me before? All of these questions started flooding my mind. Can those people without the internal monologue even formulate these questions in their mind? If they can, how does it happen if they don’t “hear” their voice? I mentioned earlier that I was spiraling out of control. Well, as I write this and as I hear my own voice in my head, I am continuing to fall down the rabbit hole. 

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Whether people just have different definitions of their thoughts, or if people literally don’t have an internal monologue, there is one thing that we do know… you will definitely get a headache if you keep thinking about this. Just trying to wrap my head around it is causing irreversible brain damage. I suggest asking people around you what they experience. If you are one of the few that do not have this internal monologue, please enlighten me, because I still do not understand life anymore. Send help.

@RyanLangdon_

 

2,454 thoughts on “Today I Learned That Not Everyone Has An Internal Monologue And It Has Ruined My Day.

  1. Curious to know if people without internal monologue can get songs stuck in their head. Can you hear the beat and music in the song or even the lyrics?

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    • Very much so. It’s very frustrating to me sometimes, since it interferes with my ability to create my novels. Sometimes when I’m really concentrating on a scene, I’ll even start to hear music. I remember them by the lyrics, mostly. I can’t remember purely instrumental music very well at all, just a few pieces, really.

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      • I usually hear lyrics, but what really stands out to me is the melodies, harmonies, and instrumentals. While I wouldn’t be able to recreate any of the harmonies from memory, I still “hear” them.

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    • Of course! For me, the song isn’t part of my thoughts; it’s out of my control, playing mostly on its own. It does play at the same speed as the actual song did, which is slow enough for words. I often find myself mouthing lyrics even though I’ve managed to push the song out of my conscious awareness. My thoughts have nothing to do with the song.

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      • That’s interesting because singing a song in your mind is much like speaking in your mind. Both involve words, are largely involuntary, are hard to stop, and you “hear” them the same way.

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      • Not true. My thoughts are very different from songs. They consist of a horde of disconnected words, occasional phrases, snippets of random sensory experiences, mental images, feelings, and static all being dragged behind a Maglev at Mach 5. That is to say, they are much faster and more disorderly than songs. At their most orderly, my thoughts may consist of a single mental movie accompanied by a bunch of feelings that are all related to each other. At their most disorderly, I find myself mouthing lyrics without being aware of it because all the noise drowned out the music. Imagine a violent war movie with background music, and that’s what I’m talking about. Except the images on the screen are capable of dissolving to static or moving too fast to be seen, just like the sounds are. The background music stays background music, though, still coherent and usually quieter than the rest.

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  2. As a psychologist, sounds to me like the absence of working memory. Never seen it in a person without brain damage, down syndrome, or lack of cognitive problems. So fascinating. I wonder how does she memorize a grocery list at the store?

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    • As a psychologist, what do you think of this idea I’ve come up with? I have no idea who your comment is referring to, but it got me thinking, and what I thought is this. I’ve said it in other comments, that my mind is like a turbulent river that actually has several different currents inside it. One current might be whatever I’m trying to think about, other are streams of sensory information, memories and story ideas that I could start thinking about instead if they cross paths with and wash out the first current, and there are a multitude of others too. Working memory matches what I think I’ve described as the parts that get caught in eddies. Like, I might take the effort to create “coffee, laundry, milk” when I need to head downstairs to get those things, and make that thought into a loop, which repeats the same way a song would, except that unlike songs in my head, I can break this loop when it’s no longer useful. Working memory is its own sub-current, traveling in slow circles. It can be disrupted; that’s why I say “traveling.” But then it would spin off into a different loop, not a stream like the rest.

      Sorry for the overly long reply, I just wanted to talk about this “River model of thought” that I kind of invented after reading this post, and I got sidetracked onto exactly where your comment fits in it. My main point is, what do you think of it? The basic premise of it is that thought is split, and different parts can operate independently. I can go downstairs repeating “coffee, laundry, milk” interspersed with a song that I have in my head, while seeing a new story idea play out and also wondering if snakes have irises. I attribute this busyness to multiple streams of thought. As a psychologist, what say you? Does the idea of split thoughts have any merit? Is there any previous research you could direct me to?

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    • I consider myself to be one of those people who do not have an inner narrator. Thoughts are abstract associations of images, feelings, impressions, and scattered words, but not a string of words like in a full sentence that leads to more full sentences. No brain damage, down syndrome, or cognitive problems. I can hold and remember words, and occassionally I do think a phrase or short sentence among the rapid associations, but it’s not continuous sentences that lead one into the next. And while I’ve never had a memory test, I would say that I’ve never seemed to have any issues with memory.

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    • Hang on – this is a surprising assumption. People who go to the grocery store with internal monologues actually memorize lists of words, rather than visualize the items they need?

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      • NO. When I go shopping I have a map of where stuff is and build the map as I go. I can have the word in my head, but do not memorise a list. As I walk about I might say to myself (in my head) “where is the milk?”

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      • Okay, that makes sense. I build a map in my head to remember groceries, too. I’m glad you shared that, thanks.

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    • Why would remembering a grocery list require a inner monolog? If I was creating the list myself, I’d have images of places in the refrigerator and the things that are missing or in short supply. Missing ingredients for various menu possibilities, or more likely looking at the stuff and the shelves and remembering what was already available and what I’d have to get more of. Remembering items that we’d used recently and restocking. If someone else made a list, I’d write it down, or remember the sound of their voice reading it to me.

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  3. Pingback: Dream sequences | Authorguy's Blog

  4. Mmmmm – what a fascinating post. In my coaching role, I describe the board room, with members, that I thought all of us had. At least, those in my sessions all have over the years. The board room is filled with various members – the committee for your life – that are there because of your hardwiring, your background, and sometimes your choice. I start asking someone to name and identify a board member that has a loud voice – for example:

    ‘Negative Nancy’, who always chips in and says things such as “you’ll fail at that and you look fat in those pants”. Then dress Nancy. How old is Nancy? Describe her appearance. It’s amazing that each of the folks I have played this out with have 2-6 board members who they identify, describe and dress in 30 seconds flat. It gets really fun when chatting with Nancy ;-). So easy to work from our logical core, when we chat with Nancy who is now this 50yr old fluffy haired lady, with lots of rings and pointy red chipped nails, who smells of cigarettes and last night’s vodka. Suddenly, we don’t believe Nancy anymore.

    Sometimes there’s Scared Sally, who is 10, and whispers things such as “It’s too scary exploring that”. She’s in sneakers, has braids, and is a little plump due to overeating because of the constant anxiety.

    It’s really a fun exercise, especially when one learns to chat with ‘Nancy’ in the car, when that little negative Nancy, or critical Bob, or throw caution to the wind Wendy voice pops up while driving along. It’s sure to bring a smile, if nothing else, as it’s easy to feel a sense of crazy, when rolling along with a conversation with oneself. When getting healthier in any of the areas, logical core gets stronger. May start with “thanks Nancy, I’ll take that into consideration”. As the realization that Nancy’s value is declining, “take a hike down a large hole, Nancy” might come into play.

    Mmmmmm. I guess I hear that inner voice. Oh, make that a whole boardroom full. I don’t just hear them, I smell them, see them, chat with them lol.

    Thank you for this awesome article that opened my eyes to the fact that Not Everyone Has An Internal Monologue.

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    • You don’t have to have an internal monologue for that to be a useful strategy. I always understood internal monologue voiceovers in shows perfectly well, even though I didn’t have an internal voice. It might be the same with some of those clients – even without hearing an actual voice, if I was asked what various parts of me were asking me to do, I would play along and construct sentences that closely approximate the general spirit of my thoughts. It would be quite easy to do so. This exercise you describe sounds like a way to learn to pay attention to one’s thoughts, which anyone can do no matter what form their thoughts take.

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  5. I have such an internal voice that I will see a clip of a character and not hear any sound but still do the characters voice in my head….

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  6. Pingback: Simple Summer Mantel in Yellow & Gray - It All Started With Paint

  7. One thing I’d like to know is, how does it affect your experience reading fiction? For me (no internal monologue), the first read is the slowest, as I have to unpack each of those words to get the intuition contained inside it, and then string them together to get the story. The second time around is much faster. I’m also more aware of gaps in the story logic. Is it different for people with an inner monologue?

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    • I have since this subject came up, asked different folks about their internal dialog (or not), and there does seem to be a difference in creative imagination for those who are not able to hear/see internally. What an interesting subject! My daughter says she does not have internal imaging, so she is practicing on one small vision that she captured years ago: to see if she can develop more ability.

      Suzan

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    • Hell yeah, it’s different. The same voice that I “hear” (without actual sound) is the one that reads the words. I absorb everything the same as I would if someone was talking to me. I can read fast, but I don’t speed read. That would be like watching a movie at a speed higher than intended and you’d lose a lot of the impact and emotion, etc. I’ll read non-fiction at a faster rate though, unless it’s something I’m reading to learn that is complicated.

      I wonder what accounts for the differences. Are we born that way, or could reading at a young age have had some influence? I also notice that some people take to words in general very easily and others can’t remember the simplest rules of grammar despite having seen examples for decades – like not needing to add an apostrophe to plural words. It boggles my mind that a person can see the word “jobs” 10,000 times in their life, but when they go to write it, they write job’s. It’s as if they don’t have an internal framework where words and grammar get processed – the same way that I can’t deal with numbers, math, equations, measurements, etc.

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    • I just noticed your handle. You’re an author – and have no internal monologue? Wow. I can’t even imagine. I compose my books in my head before they ever get typed. Well, not the entire book, but it’s my internal monologue that processes my plot, the characters, etc. Then I pre-form some of what I’m going to write in my head to see how it’s going to sound first before committing it to (digital) paper.

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      • I write too. While I can write in my head, I can only do it for very short sentences because I can’t remember exact language if it’s not directly in front of me. You remember exercises where you had to write a definition in your own words so you would remember it better? Well, my mind does that automatically. All language gets immediately broken down into its basic gist as soon as I stop paying riveted attention to the words.

        Result: I also write without any preplanning, simply because I have no ability to preplan more than a sentence.

        Further result: I write like a conversation. You don’t have to preplan the sentences you speak, do you? I can’t “craft” my writing, so I just use the same mental mechanism as I do when speaking, although the fact that my fingers speak slower than my mouth allows me to do a great deal more monitoring and adjusting as I write. And of course, once the words are on the page, it’s very easy to go back and tweak, but generally I’m satisfied with what my modified speaking has produced.

        As for the characters and plot you mentioned, I come up with those by first BEING the characters and imagining their world. The plot proceeds from there in the style I’ve described, as a conversation between the characters and each other, or between the characters and their world. Things just “come up,” the characters move on to one topic change only to realize later that they should have explored or at least remembered about the other one, etc.

        I don’t know if that’s how authorguy works, but it is one possible method a person may use if they cannot, for whatever reason, write a whole passage in their head.

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      • Thanks for sharing! That makes sense. I view the world from the character’s viewpoint as well. Feel what they feel, discover their memories and feelings, etc.
        I guess I do “see” the world and events, etc., before writing them down, but I definitely have all kinds of monologue about the story along the way too, doing things like trying to crystallize the plot summary. I want to be able to define the plot/premise for example, to be able to say what the book is about. Not exactly necessary, but a good idea if you’re able to work out key things in advance. (I think I got that from the book Story Engineering.)

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  8. I’m wondering if any of this correlates with handedness, math brain vs creative brain, photographic memory, synesthesia…

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  9. The funny thing is, that after reading your article and watching the QandA video, I am actually confused about whether i have an internal monologue or not!! I experience all the things you both said!!! 😳 I mean like there are times when i hear that voice in my head, but then there are times when I have to physically speak out my thoughts or formulate words to describe the abstract picture in my head. At times of sadness, the voice whispers all negative things in my head until i force feed some positivity in there, but then there are times when i feel so low and exhausted, and just immobile really, almost feverish without realising that there is something thats bothering me, depressing me. What do you think that is???

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