Apparently, I am the only person in my life who has remained unaware that I have a huge problem with talking to myself and narrating my own actions. A friend told me the other day that I talk to myself incessantly. I asked around, and everyone in my life who spends any significant amount of time around me confirmed it. I’m shocked, since I actually can’t stand it when other people do this around me.

I mean, I’m not totally oblivious—every once in a while I’ll catch myself talking while I’m alone doing some banal task. Putting the dishes away, “Oh, that doesn’t go there.” Or grocery shopping, “Why, oh why, are there 437 different types of ketchup?” Stuff like that. But I seem to do it around people, too. I can’t get out a credit card to pay for something without, “Where is that card? Oh, I left that one on the table. Better use this …” blah, blah, blah.

It’s incessant, now that I’m aware of it. I don’t want to fill space like that, or make other people uncomfortable, or waste breath saying these things that have absolutely no value. Not to mention people often are fearful or wary of someone who mutters to themselves all the time.

Why did I start doing this? Does this say something about me or how my brain works? —External Monologue

Dear Monologue,

Thank you for your question. Although what you describe—unknowingly narrating your world to yourself out loud—is neither uncommon nor an apparent mental health concern, I wonder when it started, what else might have been going on at the time, and why the behavior troubles you so much (that it may trouble anyone else is a separate issue).

Sometimes when we’re under a lot of stress, this sort of thing happens. Maybe you’re trying to figure something out, as people do when they’re faced with a difficult problem. Maybe you’re concentrating so hard that the words escape, a sort of unconscious blowing off of steam. Or maybe you’re just looking for an intelligent conversation!

Then again, saying something out loud can be a way to help yourself process your experience or remember something, like reciting a shopping list or a speech you’re going to have to make. Maybe you just like externalizing your thoughts into background music. Maybe this is your way of enduring the boredom of banal tasks. Maybe all of the above.

I want to be clear about one thing: Talking to yourself does not mean you are going “crazy,” if that’s what you’re afraid of. It just means you’re talking to yourself. A LOT of people do it. A lot of people even find comfort in it.

Also, why are there 437 different kinds of ketchup? I’d like to know too.

It’s possible your inner voice is trying to make itself heard, to help you get to know yourself deeply, but so far it hasn’t figured out how to make contact; it mostly just makes noise instead. Perhaps you could find a creative activity of some kind that allows you to just let your voice rip. Or just let it rip any old time, so long as you feel safe and you’re considerate of others around you. (It’s true that some people are disturbed when they hear a conversation with only one participant, which doesn’t mean the behavior itself should be interpreted as disturbing. Who hasn’t muttered to themselves?)

I want to be clear about one thing: Talking to yourself does not mean you are going “crazy,” if that’s what you’re afraid of. It just means you’re talking to yourself. A LOT of people do it. A lot of people even find comfort in it. The relationship you have with yourself is the most important one you’ll ever have, after all—and how you talk to yourself can nurture or even potentially hurt that relationship, so I encourage you to try not to criticize yourself about this.

A bit more advice: Listen to yourself. Pay attention to what you’re saying, and even more importantly what you’re feeling, when you’re talking. And find someone sympathetic and knowledgeable to talk to—someone besides you, of course, such as a trained therapist—about the unsettling feelings that surround your experience. Understanding those feelings and where they’re coming from may inspire more compassion for yourself and the behavior you describe.

Take care,

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