During a Centrd Life workshop recently, one of the attendees asked me about upsetting others when setting healthy boundaries. She specifically referred to her fear of being judged or rejected if she says ‘no’ to people. I think we can all relate to this fear. However, I told this attendee that this fear is just her assumption. She cannot be sure that this will happen, she is only assuming.
A couple of days later, I was having a session with a brilliant coach friend of mine, who challenged me on one of the typical narratives that helped me justify my beliefs around dating. They may seem like two different situations, but they share the same root: we create stories to explain the world and justify our behaviour.
For example, ‘ I can’t go to the gym as I haven’t got time.’ The accurate, factual sentence would really be: ‘I don’t go to the gym because I prioritise other things over it.’ There is no judgment here, but you are indeed prioritising other things over gym time (like work, children, relaxing, cleaning, meeting up with friends, etc.) By accepting this reality, you can also make a conscious choice to change if you want to.
We tend to hold onto our defenses when we are afraid of what would happen if we let that belief go.
Another example (from my own experience): It may be true that not all men are afraid of commitment, but why are all the men I meet afraid? What does that say about me? I’m not talking about the victim-blaming ‘law of attraction,’ that we attract bad energy by putting out bad vibes and such. Instead, I’m talking how my behaviour and perception of the world creates the circumstances where I meet men who disappoint me.
Most of the real reasons underneath a behaviour are not accessible to us—it’s part of our subconscious. Consequently, the brain creates a narrative as an explanation for that behaviour, which is basically just confabulation (or a best guess). Yes, we are lying to ourselves, big time! The easiest way to recognise when we are doing this, is when we catch ourselves using generalisation exaggeration to hold onto our ‘belief’ for dear life.
One way to overcome this and become more aware of these narratives is by using Brenee Brown’s technique. Don’t state these thoughts as facts when you find these thoughts coming up. Instead, start the sentence with: ‘The story I am telling myself is…’
But why do we make up stories like these in our heads?
Storytelling is as old as humanity. We make sense of ourselves and the world around us by ordering our experiences into meaningful sequences and patterns. It is reassuring, and makes us feel in control.
Part of growing up is to develop the ability to assign meanings to experiences. This is why we are drawn to stories and as children to fairy tales; it simplifies our world. Fairy tales prepare children to a life full of setbacks and opportunities to overcome those challenges. It paints the picture of the real world (injustice, hostility, frustration, loss, etc.) but makes the narrative more digestible by using strong polarities. There is no ambiguity among the characters—the baddy is bad, the good is full of virtue—but it still creates a map for kids to navigate life in the future.
Why is the world easier to navigate if we have a story?
Blame the Oreopithicus Bambolii. This tree-dwelling mammal is the common ancestor of chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and humans!. It was too heavy to just swing from branch to branch, so evolution came up with the solution and gifted this creature with planning and prediction skills.
To avoid breaking branches and falling, the Oreopithicus developed a sense of self, especially in the context of its environment. It had to imagine itself stepping onto the next tree and the consequences of that move. Most mammals rely on immediate responses to their surroundings, and the survival of this species mainly depended on imagining scenarios. It could have had a version of an inner monologue, though not to the extent of modern humans.
So here we are, thanks to evolution and the cultural development of humanity. We create stories and are plagued with a running inner monologue. Is there anything we can do?
Firstly, we can reduce that inner chatter with mediation or getting into a flow state for short periods of time.
We can also harness the capacity of story-telling by consciously shaping our own personal stories, which can be affirmations of identity. Exchanging stories in groups can enhance a sense of belonging. We can use reflective introspection to understand our behaviours and the driver underneath the behaviour. This is also something that can be easier in a group setting.
We would like to invite you to join a group of explorers who are courageous and curious to discover their emotional landscape and to map out their stories.
We can find healing easier in togetherness. When sharing stories, we realise that we are not all that different. And occasionally, just like in the fairy tales, we may find the inspiration we need in another hero’s/heroine’s journey.
Click here to be part of the Introspective Explorers: Mapping Your Emotional Landscape 3 months coaching programme. We’re excited to go on this journey with you.