Screaming With His Mouth Shut

I was listening to Radiolab this week (over the air) and they re-broadcast this segment from 2010, titled, Voices in Your Head. In the episode, psychologist Charles Fernyhough speaks of young childen:

Before they have words, I don’t think they think in the way that I want to call thinking.”

The show’s host, Jad says that Dr. Fernyhough defines thinking as “basically just words sounding silently in your head; before you have those words in your head you can’t think.

Dr. Fernyhough continues:

You are sitting down and you are working together [with your child] on a puzzle. All you have to do is get these shapes into the board. And if you watch any kids with their parents, anywhere in the world, doing this kind of thing, you will see them thinking together.

The child, for example, picks up a picture of a boat and says, “Where am I going to put this boat piece?” And then the mom says, “Well, have a look at the shapes,” and then the kid looks at the shape and says, “Oh, it’s got a pointy bit there,” and the mom says, “Right, can you see anywhere on the board that has a pointy bit?

When we first experience pain, we don’t have words to describe it. We don’t know what it means. What does it signify? Maybe it doesn’t signify anything.

When pain persists for more than a couple of days, its unpleasantness becomes increasingly disconcerting. Our culture drives us to experts, where a new vocabulary is introduced to the individual to help authenticate their complaints. Physicians, therapists, chiropractors (and others) assign blame to offending structures. There are strains and sprains of a variety of ligaments, tendons and muscles,  bulges and herniations of discs and a seemingly infinite variety of postural and biomechanical deviations to account for an individual’s symptoms.

Jad (the show’s host) and Dr Fernyhough add:

According to Vygotsky, this is the beginning of thinking, this kind of dialogue, and at this point it’s completely external and its all happening in that space between the child and her mother. And only over time does it become internalized…As the child gets older, she’ll start to take on the dialogue herself, she’ll start to talk to herself. This is the stage that we call private speech. We have all seen kids do this, right? They narrate every single thing they are doing…What then happens – a few years further down the line – these kids that are narrating everything that they are doing then go to school and the teachers tell them, “Shhhhhhhhh, don’t talk out loud” so they kind of get a message they need to start doing it internally. So they start to whisper to themselves out loud and then eventually they whisper to themselves silently, because the words are now in their head and that according to Vygotsky’s theory is thinking and only then is the child having a thought.

By the time I enter a patient’s home, he has already internalized his own dialogue, fueled by the language and thoughts of every clinician he has already consulted, every web-site he has visited and every neighbor who has had similar complaints. The voices in his head are loud and often erroneous, an amalgamation of the thoughts of everyone he has ever interacted with.

My job is to help him understand that his dialogue needs to become externalized, only then can I help get him out of himself.

.     .     .     .

Out of Myself

I don’t feel quite myself
I think I’m losing heart
I’m sick and tired of all those words
Voices in my head
I think I have become
Another suffering of my soul

You ask me how I’m feeling
Looking in my eyes
Hearing only what you want to hear
I’m holding my breath
Holding my time
I wish you knew how I was hurt

I’m really scared of getting lost in real life
So please stop asking me for more
Let me get this straight
Let me get this right
I need a place to be alone

I need a place to be
I need a breath to take
Don’t wanna scream with my mouth shut
It leads us nowhere
Stop looking at me like that
This is not what I had in mind

I’m really scared of getting lost in real life
So please stop asking me for more
Let me get this straight
Let me get this right
I need a place to be alone

Let me get this straight
Let me get this right

Let me go
You’ve just helped to get me out of myself


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