Sunday 5 April 2009

Talking to Myself

They say that as you grow older you talk to yourself more (returning perhaps, as is the way of things, to a habit of childhood). I certainly talk to myself more now than I did even ten years ago. Partly, no doubt, it's because, with the hurly burly phase of family life over, I'm more likely to be on my own at home - and my various occupations are generally solitary. And there's the cat, with whom I'm liable to conduct rather elegantly phrased one-sided conversations which are merely a variation on talking to myself. Of course it's as well to be sure you are on your own (except for the odd cat, or dog) when talking to yourself - though these days, if you're caught doing it in public, all you have to do is tilt your head to one side, look serious and pretend you're on a fancy mobile... I think there's more to talking to yourself than mere habit though. There's a fine line between thinking and verbalising, and I find that talking to myself undoubtedly helps to clarify my thoughts, such as they are, to shape whatever I might be composing in my head, and to nail down things that would otherwise remain nebulous, not quite thought because not stated. It's effective too - more effective than unverbalised mental effort - in spurring myself to action or concentration or renewed effort, and in improving the chances of something that needs to be remembered (if it's only the reason for having got up and walked across the room) being remembered. In a way, it's amazing how little mental activity we do verbalise. We read silently - an ability which struck St Augustine as prodigious when he observed St Ambrose doing it - we watch our various screens silently, we listen to music silently, we even commune silently (especially if we're men) with those we're close enough to. Surely it is no bad thing - is probably beneficial to the mind - to break the silence and give some temporary, partial form to that unvoiced mental world by talking to oneself. And one thing we can be sure of when we do it - we'll have an appreciative audience. Certainly more appreciative than the cat.


  1. I catch my husband talking to himself all the time lately. It's a bit scary, 'cause he's passed the six decade mark and I worry, "Could it be...Alzheimer's?" But, no, he assures me, he's been talking to himself for decades, just used to conceal it better. Whew. Ain't that a relief.

  2. It certainly helps to clarify one's thoughts, i've found. i sometimes imagine explaining something to a friend - since i rarely see my friends i have to make do with imagination - and that often enables the thought to develop from a vague mental shape to something more substantial

    i was thinking about language just the other day, actually, remembered Harold Bloom's line about Shakespeare's characters, that they overhear themselves. When we speak - even if to ourselves - the words become external, objects (kind of) in the world, which we can then consider as we would a cat or chair, as something not ourselves. You can't do that with vague mental shapes or even with internal monologue - in the latter, the words aren't physical, they're mental. i've often found that saying or writing something i've long thought seems to make a real difference in the world or in my self - there is, i think, a real difference between thoughts we say to ourselves in silence, and words we speak, even in an empty room. It's one reason i'm a little wary of language - once words are uttered, they go their own way and have unforeseen consequences.