I’m staring out the backseat window watching unplanted fields roll by while having a conversation. It’s going pretty well — we’re exchanging ideas, sharing authentic feelings, clarifying anything that was unclear earlier — in short, it’s the kind of meaningful conversation I crave with people I care about. Only one problem: it’s all happening in my head and the guy I’m talking with has no clue we just had this conversation.
From talking with other INFJs and writing my INFJ Handbook, I know thinking through past and potential conversations is something my personality type does. We tend to favor the world inside our own heads and spend plenty of time there. We’re also interested in people, though, so it makes sense that many of our inner thoughts are about how others might respond to us and what they might think about our ideas.
But living inside your head isn’t just an INFJ thing — a preference for the inner world is one of the main ways we define introversion. With that in mind, I asked a group of introverts on Facebook if they related to this and got some interesting responses from several different personality types. I also mentioned that sometimes I forget which conversations I’ve actually had with people and which ones only took place in my head and that resonated with some but, everyone. Here’s a few of the comments I got (used with permission):
- “That doesn’t sound like something limited to certain personality types, other than introversion itself. I find myself doing it from time to time. I don’t usually think about others’ feelings or intuit what they are thinking, but the conversations always play out in my head way more than they ever do in real life” (anonymous ISTJ)
- “Yes, I do! It’s getting harder and harder to distinguish which is the “real” conversation. I know too well how you feel … I don’t think it’s limited to any particular personality type” (anonymous)
- “Yep, all the time. It’s the really confrontational ones that will get me though. I get really angry at scenarios I have dreamed up in my head” (Charis Tippets Branson, INFJ)
- “90% of the conversations I have are in my head” (anonymous)
- “I do that. Though I remember if I’ve actually had those conversations because the imaginary ones were full of remarks I’d never actually say” (Mary Menard)
- “I do this regularly. It’s especially helpful if it’s a hard conversation that needs to happen. The problem is that I have it all figured out and sometimes forget I didn’t actually have the conversation. Last week I told my husband, ‘So, do I really have to call and talk to her or could I just pray and ask God to tell her for me?’ He said I need to call. 😐 I wrote down what to cover or I get into listening mode and have no idea what I was planning to say” (anonymous INFJ)
Thinking through hypothetical conversations seems like something a large percentage of us just do naturally. But why? and is it actually useful?
I think conversations with yourself can be a really good thing in certain situations. One person who responded to my question said, “I think it’s helpful because you’ve literally chosen your words carefully.” We literally think before we speak. Another commenter (already quoted) described these imaginary conversations as a rehearsal for in-person discussions. Some of you might not resonate with the idea of needing prep-time for a conversation, but many of us (both introverts and some extroverts) find it difficult to speak both clearly and spontaneously.
The last quote in my bullet-point list really resonated with me when I first read it. When I need to address something with a person, I rarely do so as soon as I realize there’s a problem. I go home and think about it, run through possible conversations in my head, sleep on it, pray about it and often jot down notes. Sometimes that’s enough for me to work through my feelings and realize that I don’t actually have to confront the other person. But if I do have to address the issue, I’m prepared enough that I won’t get as flustered as I would if trying to gather and present my thoughts without warning.
yes. it sometimes is realistic rehearsal/preparation. other times (i try not to indulge TOO often, ’cause it’s not real) i imagine people behaving as if they actually like me or as if they actually are reasonable (lol). it can make me feel better, when something is bothering me. i can play through an imaginary resolution in my head and it helps me emotionally to move on, in a world where i often don’t get ‘closure’ on things. or it just plain helps me feel less lonely or less insane/weird/different. (comment by Cheryl)
We can use conversations in our minds to make ourselves more comfortable and articulate in real-life conversations. Our ability to picture potential conversations can also be useful as a tool to work through things that don’t actually need shared, but which we need to deal with for our own peace of mind. Hypothetical conversations in our minds do serve a healthy purpose.
Of course, like with most things, it’s possible to let having conversations with yourself to get out of hand. Remember, we need to cultivate balance in all things. For example, like Charis mentioned, I can “get really angry at scenarios I have dreamed up in my head,” and it’s not fair to other people if you take your imaginings so far that you get upset with someone for something they didn’t actually do.
The other problem that I’ve noticed is that I confuse which conversations actually happened and which ones were only in my head. Sure, some things are obvious (I know I haven’t lectured some friends as strongly as I’ve wanted to, and I know I haven’t flirted with a couple guys as brilliantly as I’ve imagined), but others are getting blurry. Sometimes I repeat things when talking with people because I thought I only told them in an imaginary conversation. Other times, I don’t talk about something because I thought we already covered it or I’m already satisfied with what I thought they would say.
Skipping real-life conversations in favor of ones in our heads not fair to our friends. We need to give people a chance to express themselves, not just assume we know what they would say. We also need to give them the opportunity to know us, rather than just thinking about sharing our true selves. We can use our “rich inner world” superpowers to help build up our relationships, or we could go dark-side with our introversion and block relationships from deepening. The choice is ours.
I’d love to hear more thoughts on this. Do any of my extroverted readers think through conversations in this way? Any other introverts want to chime-in?