And Searching for an Inner Adult
I don’t know about you, but voices are constantly chattering in my head. I don’t mean audible voices. I’m not having hallucinations. I call them thoughts, feelings, memories, cravings, impulses, self-consciousness, and self-criticism. There seems to be more than one person in there because sometimes they talk to one another. I don’t mean there are actual other people residing in my skull and I don’t have what used to be called multiple personality disorder. They are all parts of me, although sometimes they talk about me and judge me as if I were a person they don’t like very much. It’s a strange thing, but it’s the kind of strange thing that’s so ubiquitous, so constant, and maybe so universal that I went through most of my life thinking it wasn’t strange. Sort of like a fish not thinking it’s remarkable to live in water.
When I started thinking about these voices in my head, I wanted to know who was talking, who were they talking to, where they came from, what they wanted, who to trust, and what would make them go away. I started to ask them, but some only said, “I’m you, dummy and I’m talking to you. I’ve always been here. I want what you want. You can trust me, and I’ll never go away.” Other voices disagreed. That’s the first thing I found out. These voices don’t always get along with each other. They represent multiple points of view that are often in conflict.
I started to study these points of view by creating a new point of view. I imagined a part of myself listening in to a conversation a group of people was having. I wasn’t listening to what they were saying, as much as I was listening to understand who they were and what their overall function might be. I couldn’t see or hear them, but I could infer that some were doing the talking and some were listening. There were some others who were being talked about, and others who made signs that certain members of the group interpreted. I inventoried the points of view, then I classified them according to common characteristics. Finally, I looked back at everything I’ve learned about psychology and human development and saw where they fit in and how they got there. The result is this book, which is all about the inside of my own head; but, who knows, it may also apply to you.
Oh, I missed a step. Because I’m a shrink, I have access to the inside of other people’s heads, or at least what they tell me about what’s in theirs. I compared the results of my study with what they said. When I formed theories about these voices, I applied them to my clients to see if the theory worked for them. Mostly, it did. You’ll have to see for yourself if my account of inner voices works for you, whether it is coherent or illuminates anything you didn’t already know.
In doing this work, I found myself interested in the origin stories of every voice in my head. Maybe it’s the therapist in me. If you came to me to talk about your depression, anxiety, bad relationship, addiction, or what have you, sooner or later we must talk about how you got that way. We may not necessarily find the solution to your problems in your history, but I can’t say I know you until I know it. Consequently, while examining the voices in my head, I tried to inquire where they came from and why they appeared.
Unfortunately, I found I couldn’t always interview them like I interview clients. Instead, I had to rely on conjecture and lean heavily on developmental psychology. I have studied widely; everyone from Freud, Jung, Sullivan, Lacan, and the Object Relations and Ego Psychology theorists, to Erikson, Rogers, Piaget, Schwartz, Bowlby, and Bowen; as well as a bunch of philosophers. Scholars might have a stroke if they see how I’ve put a little bit of this and that together, but I’m only interested in what works. I could care less about maintaining the purity of any brand of psychology.
Many psychologists have examined these inner points of view and come up with a different company of characters than I have. Freud looked inside and found an Ego, a Super-Ego, and an Id. Jung presented a troupe of dozens of archetypes. The Internal Family System’s model of Richard C. Schwartz identifies exiles, managers, firefighters, and a self. I found every cast of characters lacked something. If you were to look within and learn more about the personalities behind the voices in your head, you might organize them differently. It’s all good. The main point is to appreciate your multiple points of view and be able to assess the wisdom of the parts that hold them.
I wondered which of these voices was my inner child. I’ve been told I have one. Some shrinks encourage everyone to find their inner child because the kid is said to help you heal from the past and tap into your latent creativity. I had no trouble finding children in my own head. In fact, I soon discovered it was filled with nothing but inner children, squabbling, tattling on each other, bossing each other around, acting petulant, and throwing spectacular fits, as well as healing and being creative. I began to wonder if there was an Inner Adult to take care of them all. Many claimed to be, but inner children like to dress up as adults and assert a maturity they don’t deserve; just as actual children do. Moreover, just as children will regard anyone with a smidgeon more wisdom than they have as grown up, inner children will accept other inner children as caretakers who can barely take care of themselves.
Not finding an inner adult is terrifying. I’m over sixty years old. There’s got to be one, somewhere. How could I survive this long without one? Which of the inner voices I can trust to make good decisions? I don’t think I’m the only one who wonders.
Which one of us has not wanted someone to appear with all the answers, who can take responsibility for our lives and tell us what to do? Please tell me I’m not alone in this. I’ve wanted this when I was a little kid. I still want it now. If I can keep it with me and be able to access it whenever I wanted, all the better. At every stage of my life, I thought I had it, but it always proved to be inadequate. When look back at any part of my life, at some of the decisions I made, I want to kick myself. That doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out now. I’ve learned not to trust any part of me that claims to be my inner adult.
My search for an inner adult parallels a longing for God, or a desire that politics, science, or technology can give us the answers. Maybe they’re all looking for the same thing.
The same can be said of this book . It can never be the last word. Meeting the voices in my head is an ongoing process and I can’t ever pretend to have it all figured out. Searching for an inner adult who will explain everything and take charge of the situation is something we do throughout our lives. I’m glad you joined me; perhaps we can find an inner adult together.
Next: The Innermost Child
1 Now it’s called dissociative identity disorder (DID), which is a name that more accurately captures what can be disorderly about it. The problem with this condition is not the multiplicity of identity, but that one identity sometimes doesn’t know what other identities are doing.
2 I plan for this to be a book someday. Right now, it’s a book in progress. You are reading the draft of the introduction. I plan on posting the book in my blog first, all the way through.