By Heather Dryden
It’s a funny thing being human. When I watch our dog, I imagine a fairly straightforward relationship between his inner world and outer behavior. Itch, scratch. Hungry, snuffle for table scraps. Threatened, bark. No reflective inner monologue asserting the personal intention or social acceptability of scratching, eating, or expressing boundaries.
Yet to be human is to be self-reflective, to have an active inner monologue that, in all but extreme circumstances, functions as a filter between inner experience and outer behavior. On the upside, this allows us to organize and regulate our external behavior around value-based goals. On the downside, this also has the capacity to stymie external action and mire us in inner experiences of paralyzing self-doubt, self-blame, or self-contempt.
When our dog is tired, he sleeps. When we’re tired, what happens? An inner commentary kicks off that we instinctively accept as legitimate, as expressing reality-based facts: “I shouldn’t be tired, I got a good night’s sleep!”, or “Oh no, I’m tired, what if I’m getting depressed again?!”, or “I can’t be tired, I have too much to do!”. The simple physiological sensation of tiredness gets interpreted by, wrapped up in, an automatic inner story (in these cases, of failed personal control), and value-based behavioral response gets hijacked.
So, what if we were to notice the inner monologue, to tune our awareness to its presence…once noticed, what if we were to name the monologue as thought – not as direct, accurate contact with reality, but simply as thought…once named, what if we were to navigate our sense of self out of the interpretive content of the thought and into the experiential context for the thought? Something like this: “Huh, I am having the thought, ‘I can’t be tired, I have too much to do!’”.
Can you feel the difference? Accepting the panicked narrative, “I can’t be tired!”, for what it is, and defusing from its powerful content, we might just free ourselves to consider value-based responses to both our tiredness and our long to-do list. And like our dog, we also might find ourselves experiencing something of the enviable natural congruence between inner experience and outer behavior. Happy, wag tail.
M.A., Licensed Marital and Family Therapist
Individual adult, couples, and family therapy; trauma and emotional recovery, disordered eating, loss and transition, relationships and spirituality.