In the late 1960s and early 70s, I explored the work of Carlos Castaneda and Eric Berne as they explored the impact of internal dialog.  Castaneda sought to follow his guide, Don Juan, who gave advice to experience attention or perception without words.  Berne offered, in fascinating detail, the content of the internal dialogs we create.

Whereas Castaneda offered no dialog as an option, Berne preferred that we know what we are saying.

Eric Berne’s work focused on personal mythology, the stories we tell ourselves that we are so deeply, personally committed to that we neglect to inform ourselves that these stories represent choices we have made.  We seem to prefer the belief that we are not in control of the beliefs we embrace, leaving ourselves with stories that invest our lives with perspectives that determine our experience.

In addition to these dialogs and the content of the stories that we tell, there is the way we tell ourselves these stories.  Tone, timbre, intonation pattern, volume, emotional valence, vocabulary and even grammar contribute to the noncontent impact of an internal communication.  We manage our experience by describing the world in fashions that encourage particular interpretations and conclusions.  For example, if we speak to ourselves in loud, curt, short-sentenced exclamations, the results will likely be a polarity-based, burdened point of view.

Milton H. Erickson, the hypnotherapist, offered an additional perspective.  There is an internal, young part of us that grasps the world in the ancient language of primary process.  This aspect of ourselves is embedded in the present with only one time, one place and no opposites.  While dreaming, a person cannot imagine another time or place without actually being there.  In dream, an opposite of a thing cannot be imagined without the thing itself emerging as the focus of attention.  Erickson often communicated by using primary process language, the language of the very young, to speak to another person’s very young self, the self often at the root of a client challenge.  With Castaneda there is a choice to use no internal dialog.  With Berne there are scripts, stories or mythologies that manage content.  There are the noncontent affect ways that we talk to ourselves.  And, there is this aspect of different stages of our development manifesting different language conventions.

No internal dialog, specific internal dialog, internal dialog affect and developmental conventions.  Still, that’s not all.

Many of us run dialogs about dialogs.  We layer comments on comments.  These layers are closely associated with particular feelings, accompanied by scripts with emotional valences, which often weigh down the practitioner of the dialog with limestone like layers of world views.

I observe friends, family and folks I know expressing anger that they feel sad, expressing sadness that they feel angry, expressing fright that they feel sad, expressing anger that they feel angry, expressing anger that they feel frightened, expressing sadness that they feel frightened, expressing fright that they feel angry and expressing fright that they feel frightened.  I’ve experienced all these variations, including being frightened of feeling happy.  People have experienced themselves sad, angry and frightened about feeling happy and even happy about feeling frightened, sad or angry.  You can image how complex this becomes when you add in shame and guilt.

In addition, often it is not one feeling, but several, that share a space.  For example, I sometimes feel a mixture of sadness and frustration.  I might feel sad that I feel sadness and frustration.  When I was young, I often felt happy that I felt sad and happy.  In other words, I felt happy that I felt melancholy.

All of these two-level strata descriptions of emotions about emotions are accompanied by words.  Those words reveal Berne scripts, emotional valence when the words are used, words that often reflect developmental stages.  We are sometimes aware of these two-leveled dissociations.  Often we are not aware of the second level, just the first.  For example, we might note we are depressed, but not that we are angry that we are depressed.  Noting we are depressed, we usually are not aware of the words we use to maintain that state, let alone the second layer of words.

Finally, there are those that run multilayered internal dialogs with more than two layers.  Almost all of us do this some of the time.  A few of us do this a lot of the time.  These folks often have difficulty knowing what they are feeling because they are feeling so much at once.  Two layers are very challenging for most folks.  Multiple-layer personalities are not just confusing to themselves.  The outside world usually finds them difficult to understand.

There are those that seek, like Castaneda, a wordless world that offers gratitude and appreciation.  Exploring the world of words, for Westerners, seems necessary to be able to uncover what lies beneath.  We use words in many ways.  Letting ourselves be aware and offering attention to these pathways can create opportunities to gently let these customs go.


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