Narratives, Part 2: How We Make Sense Of The World And Ourselves
After last week’s introduction to narratives, you may be wondering, “how it is that we create these stories about ourselves in the first place?” The answer has to do with the tremendous number of experiences that we have over the course of our lifetimes. Quite simply, it becomes impossible to remember everything. We need to find ways to make sense of all of this information, so we create narratives as ways to organize our experiences and give them a meaning that seems coherent and consistent. Of course, life is not always coherent and consistent, so sometimes certain experiences get cast aside or brushed over in an attempt to create an overarching narrative.
Much of the time, the ways we create narratives is not at all problematic. You may tell people that you won the spelling bee every year in elementary school, when in actuality you came in second place when you were in the fifth grade. Creating a narrative of being the winner every year probably isn’t going to create a massive conflict in your life (unless you tell the story to the person who actually came in first in that year!).
Other times, the stories we tell can start to limit us our cut us off from some parts of our selves. If you have a story of yourself as someone who always gets their heart broken in relationships, you may begin to feel hesitant about getting into new relationships. If your narrative is that you are averse to change, it may feel even more difficult to take a risk. If you think of yourself as a strong and independent person, it may be hard to acknowledge the times when you feel vulnerable and in need.
If you want to try another exercise, think of a particular story you have about yourself. It may be a story about an experience or set of experiences, or it may be a story about the kind of person you are. Get out a piece of paper and write a brief summary of the story at the top of the paper. Then draw a line dividing the paper in half widthwise, and write “True” at the top of one column and “False” at the top of the other. Take a few minutes to add “evidence” for the story being true and for it being false. For example, say you have a story that you lose yourself in romantic relationships. Under the “True” column, you may write about a time that you skipped going to your best friend’s birthday party to watch a movie at home with your partner. Under the “False” column, you may write that the next day, you told your partner you wanted to spend some time on your own reading a book. Try to write out as much evidence as you can on either side of the paper. Then take a few minutes to read over both sides, paying attention to how each side lands in your body. Does it feel harder to take in one side of evidence versus the other? What sorts of images, sensations, emotions, or memories get stirred up? How do you feel in relation to your original story?
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