We all have a narrative. It’s the story we tell ourselves, the one we star in, the one we write, the one we only sometimes edit. It’s always playing like a silent movie, flickering in and out of our consciousness, that eerie glow distracting us when we least need it to.
My story is usually…not happy. It’s not film noir, because not enough folks die and I really lack a killer girl Friday, but it’s rarely a sun-drenched biopic, either. Usually, it looks more like a found footage movie, complete with trips, falls, and all the shaky-cam footage you could want.
Often, the narration on the story is…not happy. It’s a recap of the way I’ve failed, the way I’ve been too little too late too often, the ways I’m not embracing the suck, but instead, falling face first, leaving all the suck for John to deal with. It’s often a murmur of quiet derision, hushed tones of why the world would be better off without me.
And we’re gonna stop right here for a quick PSA: I am NOT suicidal. I am not having suicidal idealizations, or making plans. This is nothing new. It’s quite literally the white noise in my head. It’s also utterly untrue. That does not stop any of it. My brain is an asshole.
So, when something goes wrong, or I get stressed, I tend to hear the story in my head louder, and it’s always unhappy.
It kind of goes like this:
What John SAYS: “Oh, we need to do laundry. I have no socks.”
What Jen HEARS: “God, you don’t even have a fucking JOB right now, and you STILL can’t get off your ass and do laundry, and why do I have to do everything while you sit around and eat.” (We’ll tackle my food issues at a later date.)
What Jen then SAYS: “I’m trying! I’m sorry! I suck!”
Please notice what John says, versus the story my head tells me. They’re not even remotely the same.
So, I’m working on stopping myself from putting that subtext on John, because he’s not actually saying anything close to what I’m responding to, and freaking out on him because of a story he’s not part of is incredibly not cool.
Brene Brown has a great article on this, on working through what’s being said, versus what you hear as the words interact with the story in your head.
But this unconscious storytelling leaves us stuck. We keep tripping over the same issues, and after we fall, we find it hard to get back up again. But in my research on shame and vulnerability, I’ve also learned a lot about resilience. For my book Rising Strong, I spent time with many amazing people—from Fortune 500 leaders to long-married couples—who are skilled at recovering from setbacks, and they have one common characteristic: They can recognize their own confabulations and challenge them. The good news is that we can rewrite these stories. We just have to be brave enough to reckon with our deepest emotions.
A lot of it is uncomfortable. It involves digging down into your feelings, trying to figure out why you’re reacting so strongly, to things that aren’t being said.
It involves a lot of talking, of communicating with your partner, and a lot of backing your ego up and saying “I’m sorry, I was reacting to the story I just told myself and not what you actually said.”
It’s a LOT of backing up and admitting you’re wrong. It’s a lot of forgiving your partner when the story they’re reacting to makes you out to be a bit of jerk.
It’s a LOT of embracing the suck.