In marketing, the art of storytelling is key. Creating and communicating compelling scenarios and unique backstories can influence perception and elevate a product in the minds of consumers. You can sell just about anything with the right narrative. But, are you selling yourself short with the stories you circulate in your own head? The scenarios (or “ruminarios“) we create and tell ourselves can be the worst kind of storytelling.
Just about every day, my walk along the lake takes me by a huge, old tree that has this display, pictured below, at its base. A curious collection of miniature plastic toys, shells, rocks, beads, beach glass, and random whatnots. The display is magically refreshed after heavy rains, with new additions appearing in the tableau. Sometimes on my walk I create a tableau fantasy story in my head, starring the objects I see there on a given day. Other times, I create a backstory centered around the person who tends this display.
I’ve imagined any number of different backstories, with a changing cast of characters. It’s what we writers just naturally do. Some of my made-up backstories have been dark and sad. A grieving mother of a dead child creating a shrine. Or an elderly woman with dementia playing amidst the memories from her childhood. Others have been funny, featuring a wily raccoon and discombobulated homeschooling dad. I let my imagination run wild, purely for my entertainment, as I pass the time on my walk.
One Saturday morning on my walk about six or so months ago, I noticed a Barbie-like doll wearing a fuschia dress had joined the collection. I hadn’t seen her previously, and the color of her dress caught my attention. It reminded me of a particular pink dress I have, and that in turn reminded me I needed to steam the dress I planned to wear on my date later that evening. Thinking about the date, I also took in the plastic door and bearded gnome next to fuschia-clad “Barbie.”
That got me thinking about how I wished my date had not shaved off his COVID beard. And would I have been more attracted to him if he still had facial hair. And how long could I keep closing the door on having the conversation about this unsatisfying lack of…chemistry?…with a person I adored being with and felt great affection for, but just was not at all physically attracted to no matter how hard I tried. Still with me? This is how an overthinking mind works. Of course my mind went there. After all, Fuschia Tree Chick, as I came to call her, was looking a wee bit disheveled and uncomfortable in her semi-contorted state. She was trying to hold the door shut while reaching to seemingly offer some lame, half-ass comfort to the not-so-happy (but at least bearded) gnome dude.
And then all of this led me to the storyline I’ve been telling myself for as long as I can remember: “You are just no good at this romantic stuff. You don’t have a clue. You’re not meant to be in a romantic relationship. You’re never going to be comfortable opening that door. You don’t even know what it’s supposed to feel like. When it feels damn good you find reasons why it’s not. You will never be with the right person.”
Yessiree, all that in a period of, oh, maybe less than three minutes. It didn’t take long to go from my imaginary tableau scenario to the story I crafted about myself, because that storyline has been on auto-repeat, along with several others in the Self-Critical Chatter Stories On Tape Collection, for years and years.
Luckily, I’ve reached the point in midlife where, at 61, I finally can recognize and silence the majority of this shit fairly quickly, before it does any damage. But this Fuschia Tree Chick episode got me thinking about how powerful these stories are. How the narratives we create about ourselves, and then play back endlessly in our heads — often without even realizing it — can sabotage our goals, short-circuit our dreams, and destroy our confidence.
And then there’s the companion collection, F*cked Up Stories Created in Your Mind About Others (also see ruminarios), that can play in my head whenever I start to take something personally or feel someone is messing with me. I’ve come up with some doozy storylines in this collection, to be sure. Sometimes, these were fed by my intuition and may have actually turned out to be at least partially true. Other times, though, these works of fiction were made up from a place of insecurity and self-doubt, as a way to explain other people’s disappointing or confusing behavior. Thank goddessness this collection of damaging stories has been pretty much shelved, too.
What to Do About It
Do you ever find yourself replaying in your head a less-than-flattering storyline about yourself? Or, what about coming up with stories you imagine about other people, and then convincing yourself they are facts worthy of influencing your actions? Uh-huh. I bet there are some heads nodding out there.
How do you press Pause on those story tapes — if not erase them for good? You must step back and step out of your own head. I actually talk to myself in the third person, and check myself with one command and three questions:
- “Natalie, STOP it.”
- “What are you AFRAID of?”
- “What are the FACTS you know for sure?”
- “What can YOU do about it?”
Then, once I’ve stopped the story tape, asking myself what I am afraid of uncovers the root of my made-up storyline. Fear of something — rejection, loss, failure — is always the underlying cause. Always. Knowing that, and identifying the specific fear, brings an empowering level of clarity.
Next, listing the actual, verifiable facts I know about a situation helps me see how I’ve filled in my storyline with a lot of crap I don’t really know. Stuff I’m just guessing…influenced by my fears.
Finally, identifying what action I can take helps put the focus on positive problem-solving instead of negative storytelling. Sometimes the action is painful initially — such as walking away from a situation that isn’t working. Other times action is uncomfortable but enlightening — such as asking a question or having a conversation. And still other times, the hardest action of all is for me to change (because we can never change someone else) and become more accepting and tolerant. I admit, that is a tough one for me.
I’ve finally reached a point where I can answer these questions fairly quickly. I’ve recognized my own recurring story themes as I’ve grown more self-aware in midlife.
Living an authentic life involves separating truth from fiction. The storylines we create and play back about ourselves and others are a kind of realistic fiction. Fiction pieced together from bits of fact and lots of fear-based filler that create a false reality we mistake for truth. Recognizing and stopping these stories are key to claiming power and finding joy.
Thank you for reading. Before you go, here’s a look at the current story tree in September (above). No more Fuschia Tree Chick. Any of my fellow bloggers have a story for this tableau?
All images are my own.
The Hot Goddess
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