Here's What It's Like To Not Have An Internal Monologue
Experts weigh in on the different ways of thinking.
Take a second to sit in silence. Is there chatter inside your head? Or is it relatively quiet in there? There’s a conversation making its way around TikTok about this inner voice — or lack thereof. Some people have a chatty internal monologue that narrates their life, while others have a quiet, serene inner landscape. The folks with the internal monologue simply cannot imagine not having one — and vice versa.
As someone with an inner monologue, I fall into the first group. My inner voice mulls over problems, narrates my day, assesses situations as they’re happening, pulls up funny memories — and it’s been that way forever. There’s me, the person who talks out loud, and then there’s the other me, the little voice that exists behind my eyeballs. My inner monologue is there while I work, walk, and go about daily life, and I’m pretty OK with that — it’s what I’m used to. In fact, I don’t know what I’d do without her.
After seeing a bunch of these TikToks, I asked my friends if anyone else has an ongoing internal conversation, and I expected everyone to immediately agree. But half said they experience the same kind of brain dialogue as me, while the other half didn’t know what I meant, and were equally shocked that others have an inner voice. We rapid-fire voice messaged back and forth in an attempt to understand each other’s opposite perspectives, to no avail.
Turns out, it’s actually really tough to explain your inner experience to someone, especially if they have the opposite way of thinking. This is why TikTok is asking the question: Does everyone have an internal monologue? Here’s what the experts say.
What Is An Internal Monologue?
An internal monologue — or dialogue, narrative, or inner voice — refers to the thoughts that run through your brain, says Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT, a licensed clinical social worker. “Having an inner monologue is like having a discussion with yourself inside your head,” she tells Bustle. It includes asking yourself questions, internally reacting to what people say, and reflecting on experiences. It also often coincides with vivid mental imagery, which can play out kind of like a movie.
The inner voice is not just self-talk, says Dr. Felicia Pressley, LPC, a counselor and teen wellness expert. While it might include your opinions about yourself, it’s mostly a casual dialogue that isn’t necessarily positive or negative, she explains. Folks with inner monologues might also talk to themselves out loud as a way to verbally process something, “hear” the words in their head as they read a novel, silently rehearse a conversation before having it — or just feel hyper-aware of the inner workings of their mind.
If you don’t have an inner monologue, there’s no chatter in your head. It might show up sometimes, but for the most part, your mind is quiet. “It can feel like you aren’t thinking about anything,” Ogle explains. Instead of experiencing a voiceover or narration, you take in information but don’t really think about it. A person without an inner monologue isn’t constantly imagining their next move in their head, Pressley adds. Instead, they just kind of do it.
It’s tough to perfectly explain each perspective — the human experience is complex, after all — but you’ll likely know which group you fall into after hearing about both. If you aren’t sure, pay attention to your thoughts. “If you find yourself talking in your head about what you're doing or thinking, then it's likely that you experience an inner monologue,” says Ogle.
Does Everyone Have An Internal Monologue?
As someone who has an inner monologue, I’m completely amazed that some folks have quiet brains. But the opposite experience is equally mind-blowing to those who don’t have internal chatter. Creator @daniashleyy made a video about how they don’t have an inner voice, saying that they “literally cannot see anything” in their mind’s eye. “If you told me to think of an apple right now and I closed my eyes, I would quite literally see blackness,” they note in their TikTok. They thought the whole “inner voice” thing was from movies, and worried that they were alone with their lack of mental chatter. But as it turns out, most people don’t have an inner monologue.
According to research, only 30 to 50% of people have inner monologues, which means up to 70% of people don’t have a talkative brain. The thing to keep in mind (no pun intended) is that it can vary from person to person, says Ogle, and an inner voice could become more or less intense throughout your life or depending on your mental state. If you’re super stressed, for instance, it’ll ramp up.
Another study found that it’s possible for people to experience a mix of both inner speech and thought without words, Ogle explains, which is a lot like a lack of dialogue. “With large individual differences, some never experienced inner speech, while others did so in 75% of their samples,” she explains.
Neither way of thinking is wrong or bad, BTW. Pressley says it’s OK if you have an inner monologue, and it’s OK if you don’t. “It’s just the way some people process information and language,” she says.
The reason why we all process things differently is super science-y and complex, but can be related to brain structure and personality. There’s something called anauralia, or the absence of auditory imagery, which may explain a lack of inner voices, Ogle says.
“People who have inner monologues may also be more [naturally] reflective, as they can consciously observe and examine their thoughts thoroughly,” she adds. “People who don't have inner monologues may be better at staying present at the moment without experiencing any distractions internally.”
Still, it can be helpful to become aware of your inner dialogue and how it affects you, according to Ogle. “This can help you gain insight into yourself.” Her tip? Try meditating as a way to get in touch with that tiny voice inside your head.
Hinwar, RP. (2021). Anauralia: The Silent Mind and Its Association With Aphantasia. Front Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.744213.
Keogh, R. (2021). Aphantasia: The science of visual imagery extremes. Handb Clin Neurol. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-821377-3.00012-X.
Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT, licensed clinical social worker, CEO of The Heights Treatment
Dr. Felicia Pressley, LPC, teen wellness expert, licensed professional counselor