Whether you pay close attention to it or not, there is always some sort of conversation going on inside your head. This understanding is crucial not only to your ongoing recovery but to your well-being in general. Perhaps there’s some arguing going on, or some longing, or just the simple fact that you are hungry!
These “inner conversations” have different names according to different systems of recovery. In AA, they are frequently referred to as "the committee.” In Buddhist thought, it’s often called “the monkey mind.” Another popular mental growth system calls it “the conversation” and their whole philosophy is to make it go away.
However, Inner Conversations are never going to go away. They involve every daily activity you can name. Should I eat, take a shower, go to this or that movie, do some homework, fix the car, have a salad, read a book, call my friend, take a trip, have a nap, write my congressman, etc.
Every action you take in life is preceded by an “inner conversation” whether you are aware of it or not. From the Self-Parenting Program’s point of view, we know exactly what these “inner conversations” are all about. It also turns out that they play a very important part in getting a handle on your sober recovery and future life plans.
So Who’s Talking?
One participant in these conversations is who we call the “Inner Parent.” This is the voice represented by your parents when you were growing up. As a child you focused one hundred percent on your parents since they were your life support. You were biologically programmed to duplicate and internalize the way they were treating you so that you could learn how to behave and survive in this new world growing up.
Your "Inner Parent" voice became the accumulation of the parenting you received, influences from your family environment, your early schooling years, etc. In psychology, this is referred to as the ego and it forms a major portion of who you are when relating to the outside world. In anatomy it is associated with the left hemisphere of your brain.
For it to be a real conversation though, there has to be a responding voice. This part of you is the emotional voice and it has an equal responsibility in your mind as well. This voice represents your emotions, dreams and intuitions. Some people call this the “true Self.” In Self-Parenting Program, we call it the “Inner Child.” This voice within you is a child voice, even as you are now an adult. In brain studies it is represented by the right brain hemisphere.
The dynamic that takes place between your Inner Parent and Inner Child is what we call “Self-Parenting.” What’s really happening is that your Inner Parent is parenting your Inner Child within your mind, in the same manner that your outer parents parented you when you were a child. You are continuing this same dynamic, regardless if you are 20, 40 or 60 years old.
Rather than being something you want to get rid of, it’s important to know that your inner conversations actually represent who you are as a unique individual. They are your internal decision-making process and determine how you interact with the outside world. When both your mental and emotional selves are happy and whole, this is when your inner and outer worlds start working the best.
If the outer parenting you received was mostly positive, you’ll most likely have a positive Self-Parenting Style. However, if you’re an adult child of an alcoholic, there's an excellent chance that you will have many negative internal conversations featuring arguing, criticizing, negative judgments and more. These internal negative patterns tend to drive our external coping behavior so that we often turn to food, mood enhancers, alcohol, illegal drugs, gambling or other risk-taking to deal with these uncomfortable emotions. Of course these temporary “solutions” are only short term, can easily become addictive, and do not actually deal with the cause of what is really going on.
If your Inner Parent is not taught how to be loving, supportive and nurturing for your Inner Child, then nothing else is going to work long-term at the core level until you turn this pattern around. In the Self-Parenting Program, we spend a half hour each day sitting down one-on-one with our Inner Child getting to know him or her. We learn a safe way of asking questions and actually listening to the answers without judgment or criticism.
Just like an outer parent can take a parenting class to learn to become a better parent, we in the program learn how to become a better “Inner Parent.” You’ll learn how to build a positive relationship and settle in a win/win way the conflicts between your mind and emotions, your thoughts and feelings, as well as your practical “real world” self and your emotional “dreams and lifestyle” self.
Working over the years with the worst of the worst ACoA clients, we’ve been able to reestablish the interaction between these two selves, turning them from negative to positive. Your best world is working when both parts of your mind learn to cooperate with each other. Both selves have their strengths and weaknesses. When you combine the best of both, you are able to engage the outside world in a manner that fits other people's expectations as well as your own internal dreams and desires. If you or someone you know is seeking professional help, please visit our directory of counseling and therapy centers or call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.
Next, we will define these two selves more completely and provide some examples of how they interact with each other. Click here to read more!
John K. Pollard, III, is the author and creator of the book, SELF-PARENTING: The Complete Guide to Your Inner Conversations. His book, published in 1987, became an international bestseller in the US and Australia. What began as a simple discovery over thirty years ago has now become the SELF-PARENTING Program used by practitioners around the world.