Inner & Outer Voices

Inner Voices & Outer Voices – Who to Listen to?

There are two perspectives that combine to provide a picture of our identity – throughout life, not just as a teenager.  There is our own self-perception – how we see ourselves and this involves our own inner voices.  And there is also how others see us – our social identity.  Our inner voices combine with the outer voices to define us.  Our self-perception is the key, but how others see us as teenagers can have a healthy or an unhealthy impact.

WARNING!  Social Identity Can Have an Outsized Influence Initially

The hard part for teenagers regarding this dual aspect of identity is that, as teenagers, you don’t have a lot of experience discovering your own inner voices.  You’re early in the process of developing your self-perception at the same time that the external voices are loudly influencing you.

It is likely that the external voices – friends, parents, teachers, social media, traditional media, etc. –  will be louder initially and your own inner voice will have to develop with time and experience.  This part of the website will help you develop that inner voice, but it will take time.

The Inner and Outer Voices

It’s like choosing what channel to watch on TV – what voices are you paying attention to?  Whose voices are carrying the most weight for you?  Are they the ones you should be paying attention to?  Time to change channels?  What is your own inner voice saying?  Is it mostly positive or mostly negative?


Inner Voices That Influence

We have control and responsibility for our inner voices

Outer Voices That Influence

We do not have control or responsibility for our external voices, but we can manage their impact on us.

What are my inner voices telling me?

  • Positive self-talk?
  • Negative self-talk?
  • “I am…”
  • “I am not…”
  • “I want to be…, but I’m not there yet”
  • “I can…”
  • I can’t…”
  • “People think… about me”
Which of these voices really matter to me and which can I discount or ignore?

  • Social/traditional media – lots of voices
  • Family – close voices
  • Peers
  • Girl/boyfriend
  • Teachers
  • Coaches
  • Police
  • Neighbors
  • Faith community

The Outer Voices

There are so many voices saying so many things.  They can be extremely helpful. They can also do harm – short-term and long-term.  Many are very important.  Most, however, are not that important compared to your own inner voice.

There are some powerful external voices that can have a big impact on the image you have of yourself.  These voices range from whether your body type fits the social norms of attractiveness to your sexual identification and orientation.  The body type issue is particularly powerful for girls, but also seriously affects boys.  Issues of sexual orientation and identity have become less destructive in some segments of society, but they are still dominant factors and can often obscure your picture of yourself and your worth.

There are also voices that can be positive or negative based on socio-economic status, race, ethnic background, religion, nationality, etc.  Sometimes those voices matter a little, but they can matter a lot and have a major impact on how others see you.

Choose Which Outer Voices to Listen to

The challenge is to manage the outer voices vs. being managed by them. They aren’t bad just because they are external. Decide which of these voices really matter to you and which don’t matter very much. Which are reality based and which are assumptions or personal agendas and biases that others have? Which voices and which messages are credible?

It is surprising how much you can manage the outer voices if you pay attention to them and put them in their place.

Inner Voices – Self-Talk –Devil or Angel

Self-talk has a big role in the image you have of yourself – your identity.  Self-talk can be positive, like when you tell yourself “I can do this” to help get through something you’re nervous about attempting.  Or, it can be negative, for instance when you tell yourself “I’ll never get it” and beat yourself up about a mistake you’ve made or think, “They would never want me for a friend.”  It’s like having a little devil in your head undermining you and a little angel trying to support you.

We talk to ourselves all the time, although that may not be evident.  Self-talk is that “little voice inside your head.”  It’s what we tell ourselves about ourselves, or about a particular situation.  We give ourselves more feedback than the rest of the world combined.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the majority of self-talk is negative for most people – 65-70% is the range most often cited.

Self-talk Can Relate to a lot of Things:

  • “How do I compare to others?”
  • “Am I up to this challenge?”
  • “How acceptable am I to others?”
  • “How much influence do I have over my life and where I am headed?”
  • “Am I living up to my standards – or the standards of others?”
  • “Is this problem temporary or is it going to dog me forever?”
  • “Am I worthy?”

Self-Talk Affects How You Think, Feel and Act

Self-talk sends the same chemical messages to your brain as actual experiences do. Your body believes your self-talk.  It affects how you think, feel and act.  Self-talk isn’t just mindless chatter. It has a way of creating its own reality. Telling yourself you can do something can help make it happen. Telling yourself you can’t do something can make that failure come true.  Self-talk heavily influences how you see yourself and how you appear to others.

Self-talk even affects health.  Negative self-talk is stressful and can affect everything from your immune system to your emotional state.  For example, if your self-talk tends to be negative, you probably spend a lot more time feeling tense, worried, angry, sad or depressed than someone whose self-talk tends to be more positive.

On the other hand, the benefits of positive self-talk have long been noted as a path to wellness as well as success.  For example, successful athletes, performers, and leaders all understand the value of positive self-talk and using that self-talk to rehearse for a successful experience.


“It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” - The Name of the Wind


Four Ways to Manage the Inner Voices


1.  Don’t Feed the Negative

Focusing on the negative self-talk is like feeding it.  It just gets stronger.  It’s not all bad, as it may serve as a warning about realistic dangers, but it is usually far more of an undermining factor than a help.

One of the keys to managing negative self-talk is to put negative experiences behind you.  You can learn from them, but then let them go.  The best athletes know to do that as do successful executives and artists.  Life is full of mistakes and negative experiences – just part of the game – and you can manage them, partly by keeping them in perspective and by not feeding them.

2.  Challenge the Negative

Negative self-talk feels realistic, but it often isn’t.  It feels real because we accept it and don’t challenge it.  Challenging negative thoughts can put them in perspective and you can keep them from managing you.

“Oh, really?  That’s not true when I really look at it.”  “Thanks for sharing, now get lost.”  “I’m busy, I’ll deal with you later.”  “Oh yeah, let’s, look at that thought from a more realistic perspective.”  “You know, I’m done with that thinking.”

3. Focus on the Positive

Here is where vision and voice can come into play.  Envisioning yourself as successful can dramatically improve your chances of success.  So can positive self-talk.  It’s a matter of countering or replacing the tendency toward negative self-talk and building the practice of positive self-talk.

Positive self-talk has the same impact on your thinking, feelings and actions as negative self-talk – it is real – but it puts you in a very different place.  This is why envisioning success and positive self-talk is so important to successful performers, athletes and people in leadership roles.  It doesn’t guarantee success, but it makes it much more likely.

4. Use Your Name vs. “I”

There is some research that shows that positive self-talk is more effective when a person uses their name vs. “I.”  So, rather than coming up on a presentation and saying, “I can do this really well” I would say “Gordon, you can do this really well.”  In a weird way, it’s as though I create a positive external voice to sneak into my inner dialogue.


  • Decide which channels to pay attention to – the external voices – and which ones to discount or ignore
  • Watch your self-talk as you explore the other issues of forming an identity as a young man or woman.  Confront the negative and focus on the positive self-talk – the inner voices.
  • It matters – a lot.