Conflicting Narratives

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”

Lao Tzu

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about narratives. Narratives are the stories that we construct to explain what happened to us or why a situation played out the way it did. We put these stories together by stringing memories which by their very nature are laced with emotions and flawed, and mix them up with situational realities. Together this makes up our own perception of reality and we cling to them as if they define who we are. This has been on my mind because of this time of transition I am in right now. I am leaving one type of life behind as a wife and stepping into a new one as a single woman. My husband and I have decided to separate, and although I know it is the right decision, as I move forward releasing some long held beliefs about myself that needed to change, and re-examining some not so pretty aspects of myself, I still get stuck sometimes in my narrative.

I understand that the narrative that I have about why this has happened is quite different from the narrative that he has, and it has made me reflect on how much this happens in life in all types of relationships. Two people can be given the same information, read the same article, experience the same events, and come away with two different perceptions about what is real and this reality feeds into our narrative about ourselves and how we see others. Most often the desire is to reaffirm and secure the narrative that makes us feel comfortable. We don’t want to see the stuff that is messy about ourselves and we don’t want to own the mistakes we made or how we contributed to the situation.

I have been examining my feelings surrounding hearing another person’s narrative that is different from mine and listening to their perspective about how the situation occurred. When my reality is not someone else’s reality there is an immediate gut reaction to redirect, to correct, to force what I perceive as the truth. I have encountered this in myself when I discuss politics and it is also very prominent in the dissolution of my marriage. It is not a curious open feeling, it is a gripping clenching feeling. I have been delving down into the depths of this feeling, and as I write I begin to understand that what lies at the bottom of this reaction is the urge to control and to repress fear. There is a desire to create a master narrative or a universal truth about what actually occurred. Something that anyone can look at and agree that yes that is the truth of the situation. When the pattern of trying control shows up in my life I know now it is a time to get suspicious about my motives.

Control can show up like in my example of a narrative of a failed relationship or in political discussions, but it also shows up as how we present ourselves to each other. We try to construct the narrative of ourselves that we want others to see with our appearance or behavior or what we choose to share or not share with each other. Control and fear go hand in hand and always at the helm is our ego.

Ego is not always a bad thing. It keeps us safe by giving us warnings when things seem off and stops us from making decisions that would harm ourselves or others. It can help us consider multiple options when logic is required, but it can also plague us with insecurities and fears and block us from the truth if the truth is not pleasant. That clenching feeling I have now is ego stirring up my fears and making me worry about the perceptions of others to ensure I don’t fall short of the mark. Ego tries to tell me that if someone does not see something the way that I do, I have to either change their perception or relegate their viewpoint to a lesser value.

In my case, I have been struggling with how the dissolution of my marriage as it is perceived by others. I have this need to correct or direct the narrative. To get out my side of the story and have others see things my way. At the same time I have been hesitant to tell people because I am unsure of their reaction, and I have been struggling with the lack of control I have with the narrative. My immediate impulse is first to force my narrative into being by pushing it on everyone including my soon to be ex-husband, which of course as I think through it is pointless as my ego’s role is to protect me and his is to protect him. My second impulse is to try to ensure my narrative is the most prolific narrative which is equally pointless. Everyone will bring their past experiences and filter a scenario through their perception to come up with their own narrative despite our efforts.

As I was hiking with a friend this weekend we were talking about different times in our lives where our narratives differed from someone else we were in a relationship with (work colleagues and personal relationships), and how we managed them and what our responsibility is for understanding another’s narrative. We also talked about what our responsibility is in sharing our narrative with others outside the relationship. When your narrative is different yet you still have to work with someone with a different perspective or share significant parts of your life with them, there will come a time when you have to make a choice how to move forward within the dynamic of conflicting views. I am considering how necessary it is to accept someone else’s narrative, and if it is possible to accept this without conversion of your own narrative. Is it possible to let go of the need to direct others about what I perceive as the ‘truth”?

I have come to realize that when I spend time on my own feeling solid in my body, and when I am in the presence of collective strong feminine energy such as at yoga class, I believe that I can straddle the gap between being stuck and immovable in my own narrative and rejecting everything that is mine for someone else’s view. I believe that there is something magical, strong and at the same time delicate about holding the paradox of two views at the same time. When I am in this place of firmament within myself and tapped into feminine security I feel a release of the need to control. I am able to accept myself as I am even though flawed, and move toward others with vulnerability and empathy. It seems that I have to learn this lesson over and over again. Strong self without vulnerability is not really strong. Empathy without a solid core of self is not really empathy at all but abdicating of self for what you decided someone else needs, and this can be selfishness in disguise.

When I recently posted an announcement about the dissolution of my marriage on Facebook I expected either sympathy, advice, or possibly even animosity. None of which I really was seeking, but what I did not expect was that my sharing touched others to open up too. Again a reminder that I was putting up barriers again as I naturally do to protect myself when what I really need to do is just accept where I am at as others need to see this too. I came across a quote by Brene Brown recently that I think is the epitome of where I strive to be in my life.

The mark of a wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives. It’s the ability to be tough and tender, excited and scared, brave and afraid — all in the same moment. It’s showing up in our vulnerability and our courage, being both fierce and kind.

This morning I laid down on a rock in the middle of a huge reservoir watching the birds catch their breakfast. I felt the rain lightly falling on my face, my bare arms, and legs and I held the knowing of who I am in my heart and I know that I really really like her a lot. I have had to go through massive changes to get here. I have had to endure a complete dismantling of self to be able to live in this paradox and love others and myself properly. I know I will fail again and again to live out this paradox in my life, but at least I know it is possible now and I know that when I fail there are others that fell before me and are walking again, and those that are walking now may fall tomorrow. I will work from where I am at, own where I am at and lean in with my wild heart.

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Christina Donnelly

Christina Donnelly

Researcher by day writer by night. INFJ and new to this whole sharing thing. I enjoy exploring the natural world, relationships, and my link to them both!