Once a story is embedded into the culture it becomes a master narrative—a blueprint that people follow when structuring their lives. One such blueprint is your standard “go to school, graduate, get a job, get married, have kids.”
Some think that’s a pretty good script. After all, shouldn’t children be given a sense of the arc of life? Shouldn’t they be shown examples of events that could happen? Perhaps, but maybe not because standard narratives have well-documented downsides––they stigmatize those who don't follow exactly and raise unrealistic expectations for those who do.
Autobiographical reasoning can lead to dark thoughts, but it may help you find meaning. That’s why I caution against leaving selected pages in a life story unwritten. Why try to repress something if it’s going to come back and bite you? Deal with it.
Framing your life into a story is neither positive nor negative, it just is.
Therapy helps patients have a new vision of themselves and how they lived their way into it. People need to see themselves as actors, to a certain degree. Those who are caring and committed to helping future generations tell stories about others who helped them in the past. Narcissists are likely to do the opposite––they talk about themselves. They push their own story, but aren’t willing to listen to yours.
Spoiler alert: Narratives are a bit of a lie.
Storytelling gets the creative juices flowing. The plot may make sense, but does it reflect life’s realities? I listen to complex narratives all the time. I recognize that biases, personality differences and emotions are viewed differently from one person to the next. We are all susceptible to false memories so who is to say the plot points in a life story actually happened? And did they happen the way the person described them? Was the person affected the way they claim they were?
We predict the future all the time. We speculate that there is foreshadowing in fiction. Future uncertainty is uncomfortable. Life stories are a convenient way to clear the air.
The future is never a replica of the past. Looking ahead, we need to take bits of things that have happened and reconfigure them into possibilities for the future.
Life stories are written in chalk, not ink, they can be changed. You are the narrator and the main character. Sometimes that’s a revelation: “Wow, I’m not just living out this story, I’m in charge of it.” Just remember, you’re not Hemingway.
Therapy can help in the midst of an identity crisis. Ever chased a roadrunner towards a tunnel that turns out to be painted on a wall? Whatever your situation, there is power in rewriting, re-stitching and adding new colors to the canvas or tapestry. The past is always up for grabs … because you are the narrator.