I wrote a blog several weeks ago called “The Stories We Tell” but I’ve been feeling like I left it incomplete.
It’s true, our “stories” do inform every aspect of our lives: from who our friends are all the way to why we are the way we are and they inform everything in between the two.
Our stories are built from the judgements we layer ontop of our experiences I.E. “this is bad now because it was bad then,” or “this is good because it was good before.”
So, for example, maybe when you were a kid you hated green beans and you’ve refused to try them since. In this case you’d go through your life never knowing again if you liked them or not after your tastes had matured because they were “bad then” so they must be “bad now.”
We might be tempted to label this as an “immature” example of behavior and in general, we’d be correct.
Maybe the person who cooked the green beans just didn’t know how to cook them. Maybe it was the seasoning that you didn’t like. Maybe it was the preparation…lots of things to consider.
Now let’s look at another example:
Your good friend says some pretty cruel things to you:
…. why did they say that? I don’t know why…did I say something wrong? No, couldn’t have been me. Did I hurt them and not know it? No. Why would they be so mean to me? How could they be so mean after everything I’ve done for them? What an ungrateful ass! I can’t believe I was ever friends with them! I’ll show them!
So now, you’re on the attack and throwing all their crap back at them plus your crap too…
And now you’re both saying things in the heat of the moment…
We might also be tempted to label this as an immature example of behavior too, and we’d be right.
Now, granted. That’s an extreme example. But we’ve all been in similar situations before so why do we sometimes act this way?
Because our ego compels it:
The one thing our egos can’t stand is to be wrong and it will defend its “rightness” to the very last.
and also because:
our fantasy has already scripted our response.
What do I mean by fantasy?
A “fantasy” is created when we’ve had any experience in which we allowed our egos to make any sort of judgement about said experience without first considering how based in reality that judgment is.
Our fantasies are oftentimes our stories.
Can you imagine now how often you’ve allowed your fantasies to describe your experience of reality without first really considering what was actually happening?
Let’s look at our second example more closely:
Your good friend says some pretty cruel things to you. Rather than allowing your perception of that experience to dictate your response, you calm yourself and examine that moment of reality for exactly what occurred:
My friend was cruel and they’re never cruel. What has happened to THEM to cause this? Who has hurt THEM? Why are THEY hurting? How can I help THEM?
In the first iteration of this example, all the questions we asked came from our ego attempting to defend itself: I, I, I!In the second iteration, the questions come from a higher place of empathy rather than the base ego and they revolve around an attempt to understand what’s actually happening rather than immediately judging what’s happening and thusly, jumping to reaction.
Sally purchases a new shirt and asks her boyfriend, John, if he likes it. He responds:
I like the you one got last week better.
What Sally hears is:
I think that shirt makes you look fat.
The reality is simply that he prefers the one Sally bought last week but her perception of that reality, colored by her fantasies, which were created by years of negative self talk and body shame, which all too easily helped her twist reality to fit her own perception. Now Sally and John are fighting because she just doesn’t understand why he can’t love her as she is and he’s confused as all hell because all he expressed was his preference over a shirt.
Not that this behavior is true of all women, but I know every woman and man reading this can relate. Plus, there’s a reason this type of interaction has become “archetypical” in movies.
It’s also a big reason why smart men usually demure to women in these regards and why smart women are hyper supportive of their boyfriends where their masculine prowess is concerned.
See, men too struggle with their own ill begotten fantasies about their own masculinity. No man is “manly enough” in modern American society – a fantasy sometimes cruelly exploited by women but created, wholesale, by men themselves.
These examples also point out a fallacy in the often used axiom, “perception is reality.” I’ve used that axiom many times too to justify my own stories and fantasies.
My perception is correct therefore I am right.
Coincidentally, circular logic is the ego’s best friend.
And while this axiom is correctly used to point out that everyone perceives “reality” differently, it fails to address the fact that although our perceptions of reality may differ, there’s still a base, immutable “Reality” from which our perception is overlaid.
So, in any case where the ego rears up to defend itself, it’s perception and it’s position, don’t be afraid to challenge that perception and it’s underlying fantasy before you form any judgement about the experience you’re having, whether it be trying green beans again after several years of believing you hated them or jumping to defense mode when someone is unkind.
Are things actually happening the way in which I’m perceiving them? Is how I perceived this “Real?”
And don’t be afraid to ask for some clarification if you need it!!!
One last point:
We often believe that we are exactly what we believe we are. I’m not certain this is true anymore. One might even be tempted to believe that we are what others believe we are. But how many times has your friend paid you a complement that you completely brushed off as being lip service?
How about this:
“I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.”
In other words:
We are what we think others believe we are.
Sally wouldn’t have thought John was saying she was fat unless she already believed he thought she was fat.
Jay Shetty shared that quote by Sociologist Charles Horton Cooley on his podcast recently and it blew my mind.
Food for thought.
Om, Baby! Om,