Assimilating Our Alien Voices, and Becoming More Whole in the Process

Academic News & Updates

inside-outIn the movie Inside Out, the voices of emotions are personified. Internal talk and feelings are just part of being human. When I say internal talk, I’m referring to the words we internally recite, who we think we are, as well as the subconscious talk jiggling around our brain. In my dissertation, I worked on assimilation research. In assimilation research, there are two constructs: the Community of Voices and the Alien Voice.

The community of voices is the collection of voices that we believe constitute who we are. This community is made up of our past experiences, our upbringing, our culture, genetic propensities, our educational experiences, etc. Our community of voices act as a cohesive whole, more or less getting along with each as we move along our day.

The alien voice is a discordant voice that is not part of the community. It could be the voice of a successful presentation, a new medical diagnosis, an inspiration, the voice of curiosity, something you read in the newspaper, or a significant event or experience. This voice – be it positive or negative – is not integrated or assimilated into our community of voices, and often cause us internal conflicts. Note that from the alien voice’s point of view, it’s just a voice, neither positive or negative; that evaluation is just a judgment from the community’s point of view.

It is proposed that the extent to which the alien voice is integrated into the community, the greater the internal equilibrium, sense of peace, strength, and wholeness. Conversely, when the voice is not integrated into the community, somatic symptoms, unwanted thoughts, distress, and internal conflict occur. The theory goes that as the voice is assimilated into the community, that voice then becomes a resource for the community of voices.

Let me give you a personal example. I’m going along my merry way when one day an alien voice says, “You are a sloppy dresser.” What was that? “You are a sloppy dresser—just look at your unshined shoes and wrinkled shirt” says the voice. The voice was not judging me (“you’re sloppily dressed therefore you’re a bad person”), it was informing me (“you may want to pay attention”). At first I ignore the voice. Then the voice bubbles up again, and again, wanting to get noticed, until the community within me says, “you know, that shirt does seem to have a few more wrinkles that usual.” Soon I realize that I could spend a little more time dressing better. Taking that voice into my sense of self, I take 2 seconds to plan what to wear, I spend 3 minutes shining my shoes, and I make sure of a close shave and an ironed shirt. The point is, that what was once a negative, alien voice, is now an integrated, assimilated voice that has me looking my best.

As we live, we take in other voices and are providing others voices too. This is an ongoing process. So, in this season, I ask you not to shy away from any voice—these are after all voices that are part of us. I’m not saying to give free reign to the toxic voices of our lives, but voices that do seem negative may well have the potential to help us shine. Learn to listen, let that voice (you know which one I’m talking about) have its say, and see how it can be incorporated into our best self. I think you’ll find your energy and confidence improves, your well-being stronger, and that you are even more whole now by accepting and assimilating all of you. The gift this season is being more of who we are—it’s literally already inside of you.
The very best,

“Be careful when you cast out your demons that you don’t throw away the best of yourself”
-Frederich Nietzsche

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