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My Inner Anauraliac

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Dad’s Corner

By: Justin P. McCarthy  |  October 4, 2023


“What do they say?” Dr. Hoffman repeats, with the patience of someone paid by the hour. “It’s alright; take your time.”

The office is small and smells of dusty books and overwatered plants. Fifty years of degrees and certificates ring its walls. I’m sitting in an ancient cigar armchair–not sitting, so much as dissolving into, willing a full-body metachrosis to deep saddle brown. Hoffman looks on with infuriating impassivity. 

I fidget with the chair’s rivets, finding a loose one and spinning it in place. “They…they don’t say anything, really. No praise, no criticism, no encouragement. They’re just sort of…not in there. Is that bad?”

People born without an inner voice–that constant, chattering cranial companion who opines on everything without being invited to–are known as anauraliacs. It’s not just words they’re missing, either: true anauraliacs can’t imagine what anything sounds like. Reading about the condition–identified in just 2021–I thought, maybe there’s an unknown clinical variant which explains why I hear all sorts of voices and noises in my head, but never a word–not one–from any of my parents.

Hoffman and I had spent years (and I had spent thousands of dollars–he really should have had nicer furniture!) unraveling this question. As he described it, for most of my life, it was all id and superego upstairs, taking turns running the show and watching the basement door to make sure ego didn’t slip its shackles, dash out, and dare to moderate my personality and decision-making.

Most people, he said, internalized their parents’ voices in childhood–encouraging or disparaging, reaffirming or critical–and this often helped their egos develop. Mine had never settled in. With the limited exception of my step-father (when he found our interests aligned), my parents were too self-focused to do much parenting: Mom had men and law school and wine, my father took comfort in a diverse array of intoxicants, and my step-mother was busy not raising her own children. They’d just never given me a lot of guidance–about anything.

When I met Katie, who would later become my wife and the mother of our three children, I knew I needed the sorts of guardrails I’d never developed. Figuring her joy or displeasure were most relevant to a happy life outcome, I started to imagine Katie’s voice in my head. That way, “she” could review my actions and ensure I’d do the right thing in a given situation. Erring on the side of safety, I made Inner Katie far stricter and more fastidious than Actual Katie, often leading to me doing what Inner Katie suggested, then complaining about it to Actual Katie:

Me: “Damn it, sometimes I like to leave my jacket on the couch when I’m going out again right away!”

Actual Katie: “Umm…OK. That’s fine…I don’t care. Why would I care?”

Actual Katie wondered why I’d made Inner Katie so mean. Keeping up these cognitive acrobatics–compensating for what my parents should have provided–was exhausting.

When the kids came along, I updated my mental model to simulate what I imagined a “good” parent would say or do in response to given stimuli. I came up with a sort of parenting mission statement: “To help our kids end up happy, healthy, successful, and well-adjusted, so they can live life well and help others do the same.” When teaching, praising, and disciplining the kids, I thought, “Does what I’m saying line up with the mission?” Inner Katie stuck around to keep me out of trouble, but her voice eased into the background.

I don’t know when I pulled down all of the scaffolding and that simulated good parent voice just became my voice, but now I hear our children–having taken it in as their own–repeating it back to me. At dinner a few weeks ago, mourning the relationship I never had with my aging father, I let myself complain–just a little–about how he hadn’t been there for me.

“It’s OK, Dad,” Jack said.

“We love you,” Claire added.

“It’s fine that your parents are crazy,” Ali chirped, “ours are, too!”

Justin P. McCarthy lives in Tiburon with his wife, Katie, and their three children--Jack, Ali, and Claire. He’d be delighted to hear from you at
More from this issue:

Championing Imagination in Our Children’s Lives and Our Own HERE >> 

From Homeless to Homeward Bound of Marin HERE >> 

How to Choose a Preschool: A Complete Guide HERE >> 

My Inner Anauraliac HERE >>

October is for ADHD! HERE >>

So Do You HERE >>

The Power of an Early Start HERE >>