Last weekend, the psych blogger at Had Enough Therapy? blogged about a very sad woman who, to sum up a lot of mess, had her life dictated by the stories she found around her. Her existence post-college was determined by the stories she latched onto. This was not healthy, and I don’t think she will do well as time passes. Her story would have been fine – as the plot of a modernist literary novel. For a real person? Not good.
So, why was she trapped in such terrible stories? I use trapped, because that’s what the blogger, Stuart Schneiderman, uses. “She is trapped in fictional roles, and thinks that that is all there is.”
I am not a therapist of any sort, nor do I have any training in psychiatry. I have read some Freud and Jung. I am an author, and a historian, someone who spends her time surrounded by stories. Some are true, some are True, others spring from my imagination. What struck me about the woman in the article was this: she’s her own main character. She puts herself into plots and stories, and lives life for a while as if those plots were everything, and that she had no choice but to follow the script.
At one point, she starts playing Strong Female Characters (modern version), and gets very unhappy because they are just, well, guys with female anatomy. At which point I sort of rolled my eyes and sighed. Yes, that’s what Hollywood is writing, because that’s what the women’s movement’s fringe has been declaring (at least until they started declaring that male and female are purely social constructs completely determined by your biology. [Don’t hurt your brain trying to follow the logic, please.]) So that’s the plot-line she will be asked to play.
What struck me through all of her sad litany is that she never, ever, looks around to see if there is anything greater than herself. She never asks if there is something else at the center of the world, of existence. She is the main character, the focal point, the omphalos. Everything that is, is around her, and the narratives that she adopts. Right there, I realized, is the core of a lot of her problem.
When you are not the center and cause of everything, then you don’t have to be tied to “the Narrative.” You have a lot more stories to choose from, a lot more ways to shape the roles that you choose to play, a lot more ways to see the world.
People all live first person singular. That’s just how we are. We’re not a hive mind, we’re not telepaths who can see through or into the minds of other people. But we don’t have to spend our lives as the victim of the stories around us.
Stories are powerful. They shape us in ways we know, and in ways we never quite understand. Look at how Western Civilization is still shaped by Christianity, even as “traditional religion” is being pushed away. That’s a mighty narrative. The stories we choose to live by are very, very important to our mental and even physical health. Which character do you choose to play? The class clown? The strong, silent hero? The office mother? The loner who notices what others miss? Mother? Father? Spiritual seeker and servant? Yes?
Some years ago, an aquaintance asked how I could be so certain about my beliefs. I replied that it was because I knew who I was, what my core identity was. With that and my religious faith as a foundation, it was relatively easily to discern what fit my world, what didn’t, and what I was and am content to let stay unknown or to ignore. The woman in the New York Times article has yet to find that core, so the stories around her steer her. I fear that she is not alone in that problem. I hope she finds help, and learns what script will bring her some peace and health.
Scripts are powerful. Choose them with care.