Beware the narrative. Roll up for story time!

It’s a well known proven fact that humans interpret the world around them and their social circles with stories. Humans create narratives in order to make sense of data inputs and ensure the brain keeps the body ticking over, moving you towards your evolutionary goal of survival and procreation. There’s been countless books and studies on it – one of my favourites being The Self Illusion if you’re interested to read more.

So why beware the narrative? We all love a good story, don’t we?

Well, yes and no. Stories are great when we’re looking in, following the protagonist go about their adventures, solving mysteries, saving the day, or perhaps falling in and out of love. But when we’re in the story, and we’re not sure what role we’ve been cast (or even that we’ve been cast one at all!) – both by ourselves and by others, then it’s a bit harder to enjoy. Especially when the story doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to, the way it was supposed to. But it was always just that, it was always your story that you created. Sometimes they have happy endings, sometimes they don’t. Depends how your brain decides to process the data it’s been given, and how you chose to let it.

Every interaction you have in your life is part of both your own narrative, and that of the person (and community groups) you’re interacting with. In the smallest way on Twitter or a blog post for example, it could be with a tiny shared moment as they flick over your post and hit love (or don’t) and without even knowing it, for that fraction of your life you were part of theirs. It’s almost entirely inconsequential. But when you’re interacting on social media (or you know, anywhere – on and offline) and it’s a bit more than that – you’re creating social circles where you give and take information on a more ongoing basis, things start to get more involved.

The narrative you’re giving out may not even be one you realise you are – are you often posting things that are positive, negative, open, closed. Do you care about other’s feelings, or rather interact in a way that serves the self more? Do you promote happiness, desperation, emotional unavailability, neediness, love, excitement? Whatever you’re putting out there is building on the story of you in those who surround you. Your role in their narrative is built on the data you provide. Not providing any data? You probably don’t feature in too many narratives. That could be a good or bad thing, depending on your preference.

And what are the stories you build around others? You see their photos, their writing, their interactions. Do you see them as kind, needy, happy, sad, giving, loving, jealous, scary, angry etc – think about how that affects your interaction with them, based on all you have to go on (which is obviously the only evidence you have). Interesting to step back and consider that that might not be who they actually are, but just who they are in these moments in that platform, or place.

Then comes the narrative that I find the most fascinating of all. The narrative we weave around other people and what role they should play in our lives, based on the story we want to see play out at that given point of time in our lives. And that’s fluid – it moves and changes as we do, as does the role of the character we’ve cast on them. Those where the character matches the role given tend to work out well in our lives, and so long as they change as our casting does, tend to stick around. Those who were never cast correctly in the first place, or don’t turn out to play out the role you’ve deigned on them (whether you realise you did or not) tend to disappoint us, to some degree or further – and may find they cease to feature. They get written out, or worse, they get cast as a baddie. The more someone acts in a certain type of role the more ingrained it gets – hence things like “friendzoning” or “love of my life” or “bastard ex”. Iterative feedback loops that create stronger bonds in certain directions.

Fascinatingly the brain also post processes memories as stories too, sometimes with a slightly different filter than when you first experienced them – depending on your current state of mind vs the mind you had at the time. So you can’t trust a memory to be a true reflection of what once was. Also, brains (and eyes, interestingly) have another reality processing mechanism that allows them to infill gaps of data with what it expects to see/process. With online or distance relationships/interactions (time or physical) particularly this can lead to exaggerated pockets of feeling like people really get you. Your brain is basically infilling with what you’d like in the voids that don’t exist. Dangerous territory when forming any important emotional attachments.

So, yeah, beware the narrative – acknowledge that it’s there, and whether you like it or not (or think you do it or not!), you’re casting your own story right now and others are about you – who can you see are the heroes? Who is the big bad wolf? What role are you playing, and what role would you like to – are they the same? If not, make the changes in your life to get the role you want. It’s your movie, you be the star. And be mindful of others you cast in their roles: they may not be able to deliver what you expect of them. And maybe neither you nor they realise the role they’ve been cast as, and therefore why they’re failing. Perhaps the role you’re playing out – with or without realising it – isn’t one others want in their stories, which is why you feel like sometimes you don’t belong.

Just a thought.

About Thayer Prime

Tall. Eats a lot. Talks too much. I tweet over @thayer
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