The Discovery of the Inner Other

An excerpt from the book, HEALING THE FRACTURED SELF by Jack Walters. Seabury Press, 1985

Some years ago, as I sat listening to a client, Dana, talk about her sense of isolation and immobilization, I began to become aware of the way she referred to herself. It sounded as though she was an outsider-another person. She’d say, “You have to clean the house today! ” or “You’d better do the shopping! ” When I asked her about this, she explained, “When I hear those commands, I dig my heels in and don’t get anything done!” She did not refer to herself in the first person: “I” want to do the cleaning or “I” want to do the shopping; moreover, it sounded as though she was being ordered around from within herself by another: an unseen but powerful speaker. She herself described it as a rebellion going on inside.

I wondered if she was conscious of the way she referred to herself. At first she was puzzled by my observation. But, with the help of my tape recorder, I was able to replay those parts of our conversation. She listened. When the playback ended, I asked her to describe what had been going on inside of her each time she used “you” instead of “I.” She paused a moment to think, then smiled wryly. “The ‘you’ . . . it’s like a stern voice in my head yelling at me,” she said. “It’s a voice that commands me at every turn and makes decisions as to what to do, what to feel, and who to be. It’s this voice I’m constantly battling.”

It seemed that there was more here than an individual’s quirk, and my hunch paid off. I began listening to others for the same or similar speech patterns, and soon discovered that they were shared by a number of people. Significantly, they seemed to agree with each other in their perceptions of the cause: “It’s like a voice inside my head talking to me.” I explored the patterns further and found that these “inner voices” did more than talk.

More often than not the tone of these “voices’ was demanding, mean-spirited, and abusive. Most of us have experienced the phenomenon of talking to ourselves. For some, however, the effects have dire consequences. Those who are most severely controlled by “inner voices” suffer debilitating psychological as well as physiological symptoms: profound depression; a sense of inner void and worthlessness; physical immobilization; anxiety; the compulsion to overwork; alcoholism; drug abuse; isolation; fear of relationships; a recognizable pattern in the breakdown of relationships; and a wide range of physical disorders, including stomach and intestinal disorders, chronic muscular tension, particularly of the neck and shoulders, headaches, and a high susceptibility to colds and other infections. But more significantly, these people experience a severely impoverished quality of life: a radical sense of being outside of the mainstream of the nourishing existence that others enjoy.

It’s important to present a clear picture of this internal struggle as I’ve seen it, it’s just as important to me to recreate the sense of drama involved when a person becomes conscious of this struggle and attempts to deal with it. Above all, I want to avoid becoming locked in technical jargon and abstract theory. To reap the benefits of both, so to speak, this book is structured around the histories of two former clients, Dana and Chris, who suffered considerably in response to these inner voices. Wherever possible, I have incorporated transcripts of their sessions into the text.

While we might understand and sympathize with Dana and Chris, we could dismiss them as unique: as individuals who were suffering from conditions peculiar to them. I do not find that to be true, though. When listening carefully to most people, I find that the substitution of “you” for “I” is incredibly common. Furthermore, when I explore the deeper significance of this with those who have just used it, their responses are strikingly similar. So, while Dana and Chris provide the real-life experiences, which come about as a result of this struggle, in the end it’s important to remember that they are prototypes and represent similar conditions in each of us, which vary from person to person, from history to history.

When Dana and Chris first approached me, they were both locked in internal conflicts. However, their psychological reactions differed in significant ways. It’s for this reason that I’ve selected Dana and Chris; because, while they were both dealing with a very similar kind of internal process, their different responses in reaction to their own internal voices offer us a clear picture of the many avenues available to the Self in its struggle against the dictates of the internal monitor. Both Dana and Chris suffered from a great deal of psychological pain, and both of them, with a great deal of effort, courage, and an increased understanding and appreciation of their conflicts, successfully traveled the road to psychological health.

This book is the result of the many years I spent in an effort to penetrate and understand the causative processes behind this struggle: “the battle within. ” When and how does this phenomenon begin in most people? What steps can be taken to defuse the incredible and seemingly awesome power that these “inner voices” exert over the will of the Self?

It’s been my hope that Dana and Chris’s success would encourage others. Maybe within these pages lies the inspiration for you to take steps to defuse the power of your own internal monitor. Dana and Chris discovered that psychological autonomy can be attained, and they learned that, once they succeeded in winning out over their “internal authority,” they were then able to have a comfortable interpersonal relationship-something they had desired for a long time. Their journey toward self-discovery mirrors that desire in all of us: a passionate urge to come to grips with our own realities. So maybe, just maybe, these stories will ignite that urge in you and propel you on your own journey into “the heart of darkness” and out again into the assurance and warmth of self-discovery.