My inner Life

This month's theme at Scientiae is “internal monologues.”

As some of you may know, I have a pretty rich internal monologue. One of my odder habits is that, when bored, I make up stories about strangers in my surroundings. These stories are anything from boring (the man eating lunch over there is married with 2.5 kids) to bizarrely detailed (the man eating lunch over there is married and one of his sons is gay, but the man doesn't know it yet. His son will come out to him later today. What his son doesn't know is that the man's best friend-- and the son's godfather-- is also gay.). I have learned to make sure these “stories” are only about people I don't know and have a very rare chance of meeting. Otherwise there have been times when I've confused the backstory I created for them for their actual backstory. (The best example of this was at a restaurant that I went to all the time. There was a waitress who worked there and waited on me a lot. I decided that she had left some slavic country to escape persecution because of some controversial artwork she had created and displayed. So, now she had to send money back to her mother and elderly grandmother-- who had breast cancer, but didn't know it yet. I would find myself feeling bad for her elderly, cancer-ridden grandmother and tipping accordingly.)

However, lately I've found that this habit of mine has unconsciously bled over to my everyday life. I tend to infer things behind what other people say. For instance, when someone says “Nice presentation.” I read that as, “Glad that it's over.” Or “I hadn't caught that. I'll put that into the review.” really means, “Well, that was really unimportant. Stop getting hung up on the details.” In my more rational, or sane, moments I know that these harsh criticisms are only coming from within and that these people probably mean what they say. However, I can never entirely push away the feeling that secretly everyone else thinks, but is too nice to say, that I'm incompetent at best and hopeless at worst. Only during writing this have I realized that my inner monologue is negative only when it relates to me. Otherwise, when making up stories about other people, it tends to be pretty positive.

What I'm curious about now is whether or not this is a female thing. Not the making up stories about strangers, but this tendency to infer some most-likely false meaning behind praise or just plain statements. Is it just a female propensity to disbelieve success? Or is it just something that everyone does? I'm lucky enough to have a pretty strong female support group (i.e. friends) in my graduate program. We get together for dinner and wine every few weeks. And one of the topics of conversation, after a few glasses, is whether or not we're cut out for this (Am I smart enough? Clever enough? Good enough?). I never hear these things from the men in my program, but perhaps these things can only be said when all inhibition has been lost? Maybe, as scientists, we can only be honest after the posturing?