As an author, I’m obsessed with narrative. And maybe, just maybe, you could benefit from being obsessed with narrative, too.
Not because of the thrills of story writing– but because understanding narrative and its influence on you (and me) will make life easier, happier, and all around better.
A narrative is simply a story. People love story, and story is infused within all of life, externally and internally.
We live and breathe narratives.
Check it out:
- Your day has a beginning, middle, and end. Like a story.
- Your meals have a beginning (getting ready), middle (enjoying or not enjoying the food), and end (cleanup). Meals exist in a storyline.
- Your work has places to go, things to do, people to meet. As in a storyline.
- Your personal perspective makes you the hero. Your friends are the supporting characters. Those milling on the street or sitting next to you in the coffee shop are extras.
Narratives are cool. Storylines are exciting. They make us think, feel, and (ultimately), consider our own lives.
We translate and make sense of our lives through storyline.
Watching the latest Marvel or DC blockbuster, we vicariously live the story, translating the hero’s feelings to ourselves, subconsciously asking, how would I respond?
Listening and nodding when a friend recounts her day, we translate the feelings through our histories, subconsciously asking, what does this mean to me?
Personal narratives—what we tell ourselves about our experience—help us logically unfold what’s happening around us, decipher the challenges, and construe meaning from circumstances.
But the truth is, the internal story gets us into trouble.
Let me say that again.
The internal stories we tell ourselves get us into trouble.
You and I interpret the narrative wrongly, creating false stories. We don’t fully understand what’s going on, miss what someone means, and misconstrue the meaning of entire situations. For whatever reason, we fail to check for details, fail to check for understanding, and don’t have the perspective that will create positive meaning.
We jump to conclusions. Oy.
And the conclusions we tell ourselves can be quite off.
In fact—because we can only interpret the narrative from our “hero” point of view—our internal narrative, unless checked, is always skewed. Always. It’s skewed toward our biases. Skewed away from our prejudices. Twisted ever-so-slightly by our preconceived notions. Pushed back by our lack of knowledge or lack of experience with a topic or situation. Nudged away by our assumptions, bumped away by our history whispering its influence, and thrown away by our hurts.
We create false narratives: gap-filling parts of the story that are our own creations. They aren’t Truth. But we believe them as Truth. (As a human race, jumping to conclusions is our forte.)
And now the trouble begins.
We act on the false narratives. What we’ve said so many times in our heads becomes our Plastic Truth. Over time, these fake parts of the story—the pieces that we’ve made up—actually cement into the gaps between Truth.
They feel real. We treat them as real. We call them real. And we don’t check for any other reality (true reality, not our created reality) because we’ve closed that door—it’s a done deal. We’ve turned the page and moved on to a new part of the story.
But we don’t see it. To our story-seeking minds, it doesn’t matter that the story parts are made up. Not at all. Our story-seeking, narrative-loving selves can’t be bothered with Truth.
We believe the lies. And lies are destructive.
They just are.
False narratives create negative thinking patterns, interrupt positive momentum, and destroy relationships. Yes, it’s that bad.
False narratives become a crutch. We tell ourselves internal stories to avoid facing mistakes. We create stories about others to pass the blame for our errors and to avoid the responsibility of changing. It’s oh-so-much easier to create a story where someone else is to blame than to confront tough things of life.
But the destruction of false narratives doesn’t stop there.
False narratives grow. They simply don’t stay the same size. They expand, becoming the fish story of the one that got away, bigger and bigger, until Truth isn’t recognizable.
False narratives become habits. Filling in those gaps with story is, again, so much easier than engaging in conversation, seeking Truth, and dropping bias, prejudice, presumption, and preconceived notion. We slide toward what’s easy, and it’s a slippery slope.
Life doesn’t operate well when immersed in false narratives. Plans deteriorate. Projects fail. Relationships are lost, for the false stories we’ve crafted and rehearsed to ourselves and others. And for those reasons, Truth is our friend; false narratives are our worse enemy.
What’s the answer to fighting false narratives?
Truth seeking. Opening minds to possibilities. Conversations. Admitting that we’ve fallen into authoring a filled-in narrative of our own making. Dropping anger. Admitting you may be approaching the situation without all of the information. Believing another story.
It takes a big person to seek true narratives. Big thoughts. A big amount of energy. And an even bigger amount of humility, openness, and kindness.
To “get it done” and make an impact, to be healthy in our work and play, and to be creating relationships instead of destroying them, true narratives are a must-have.
Here’s to being big.
Erin M. Brown, MA/MFA (aka author Erin Brown Conroy/EB Conroy), is a professional writer/author/editor with over 20 years of experience, including eight books; hundreds of articles and professional materials; marketing and web writing; multiple curricula on writing, reading, leadership, and communication; and over 50 online courses created and used across the world. A former professor of writing, research, leadership and management, and interpersonal communication at two different universities, Erin writes and speaks internationally.