The stories we tell ourselves

How many times a have you heard someone tell the story of some major event in their lives? Have you noticed that, often, the story gets more “set” with each retelling? Everyone has that uncle (or dad or granddad) who tells the same old war/military, (hunting/fishing, sailor/truck driver) stories whenever a new person at family gatherings freshens the audience. You may even have your favorites, stories that always make you laugh, stories that reaffirm, stories that explain.

That last, more than anything, I think, is the most common reason for the longer stories we tell ourselves and others, the major motion picture events like having a baby, moving, getting married, going to college or into the military, losing a loved one. We tell the story because we want to know Why ~ but we’ll settle, initially, for When, Where, and How. Retelling the story of us is how we create order in our world, how we cope with the unexpected, how we give ourselves the illusion of some control in a reality inherently uncontrollable. It’s necessary, because living in free fall is just too frightening.

So we tell ourselves the story of something that happens, like amateur detectives in a cozy mystery, figuring out and linking together the chain of events that led up to whatever it was that happened. And it’s a good thing, this storytelling, because once the mystery is solved, the “truth” revealed, you can move on to the next thing, even though you may tell this particular story again when you need to.

Remember the old All In the Family episodes when Edith Bunker would tell Archie about something that happened, often diverging to set the story in context or because some related thought occurred to her ~ while Archie mimed some method of suicide? It was wryly funny to many of us ~ we all know someone who rambles on (sometimes we ARE the someone who rambles on) and never seems to “get to the point, Edith!” But in a very real sense, Edith isn’t telling him the story, she’s telling herself, and in the process of recounting the Where, When, and How, is trying to uncover clues to the Why of whatever it is that will make sense of what happened.

We all try to trace the thread of the story to make sense of the events that take place in our lives ~ like following the storyline in a book or movie to see how it all comes out, only the denouement is a bit more important to us. It’s how we negotiate our way through the world.

It’s also one of the ways we assemble who we are.

Fortunately, our lives are not one major motion picture event after another. I’m not sure how long one could survive the intensity and stress, even if each event were a joyful one, like having a baby.

But even when there’s no car-chase or love scene or explosion going on, the cameras are still rolling and the narrator is still telling the story. We talk to ourselves all the time, telling ourselves who and what we are, constructing our reality by narrating our perception of it, filtered through a multitude of experiences, conscious and unconscious.

What impacts us the most, though, are those brief soundbites that pop up in our minds over and over again, like public service announcements. But where do these soundbites come from? And how do they really serve you?

Next time: not brought to you by the ad council . . . .

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