In our last entry we left open the question of who is doing the listening within our inner dialogues. Upon close introspection we find that there are multiple “inner listeners” that can be categorized as Absent Others; others “as if” they were present in the dialogue itself.
The following is the typology of these absent others who are indeed our inner auditors:
Specific Absent Others- Real people who are SIGNIFICANT in our lives. In early childhood these include our parents, siblings if we have them, early childhood friends, etc. In later life they become our current significant others as well as ex-significant others, our close friends, colleagues, etc. This class of absent other can also include inpiduals who we encounter during our life for whom we hold strong feelings, positive, negative or neutral.
General Absent Others-Unlike the specific inpiduals this class of absent others are most often groups we identify with as well as groups that we identify against. In high school for example cliques, in civic life fraternal and civic organizations such as the Kiwanis, in political life the party we support as well the party(s) we don’t. etc.
The key feature of this class of absent others is that we identify with the values of the group or in the alternative, identify against the values of the group.
The first two types of absent others are composed of real people with whom we literally carry on internal conversations, albeit as with all internal dialogues we animate both sides of the dialog. Within normal pathologies the absent other is always silent in the interchange (in certain types of schizophrenia the absent other literally becomes “voiced” but this phenomena is beyond the scope of this entry.)
The next two types of absent others are imaginings that we have of ourselves:
The Projective Absent Other is the other who I wish I were while the Regressive Absent Other is the other who I believe myself to have been. These two classes of absent others are integrally tied to our inner experience of lived time wherein the projective absent other is always imagined in the future and the regressive absent other as “remembered “ in the past.
There is a fifth type of absent other – the Transcendental Absent Other. In 12 step programs the Transcendental Absent Other is often identified as a Higher Power or in Martin Buber’s terms the Eternal Thou.
In our next entry we will examine the dynamic of addictive inner dialogues using our typology of absent others in order to better understand how these addictive inner dialogues develop and play out.
Rick Murphy, M.A.