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Our Inner Narrative: Why What We Tell Ourselves is Consequential

My hormones are taking over again. I've been a weeping, screaming, spastic mess. Shingles don’t help. Neither does being married. But I can’t really blame anything external on this. It’s irrational, awful behavior cued by chemicals. And I hate it. And I love my family for understanding.

But I tell myself stories to justify it. I have to. Or else I just feel like I’m spilling out all over the place in some random, disgusting deluge that consumes everything and leaves no sense or meaning behind. In reality, this is the truth, but I can’t handle that. Not at the time. Not when I’m electrically charged with such intense emotions.

So I tell myself a story. I search for continuity from the last downpour – what was it again I was upset about last time? That must be the problem again. That must be. And so it feeds on itself, quickly, desperately as the temperature rises, so that when the dam bursts I can rationalize it. To others. Mostly to myself, in that moment, before the guilt seeps in and the understanding that I have, once again, lost control and made a mess of things.

Maybe none of you can relate. If that’s the case (and it likely is for some ‘calm and collected’ people out there), maybe you can understand this: sometimes we tell ourselves stories to feel like we have control. Like things make sense, even when they don’t.

Lately, mostly due to those lovely hormones I mentioned, I have been telling myself some pretty unfair stories about my husband. I won’t get into it, but it’s your typical “why should I have to put up with this” kind of crap you start to narrate in your head when you live with someone for a long time. The “injustices” of marriage swell up sometimes, and it’s a process to get back to a place where you remember all the wonderful reasons you chose to share your life with them.

I’m currently working through that process, with my hormones pulling me back at every possible turn.

But last night, when it seemed that life just couldn’t be more unfair (I mean, who should ever have to make dinner when they are pregnant and sick?), and my husband seemingly couldn’t possibly be less appreciative of my existence, he walked into the room to show me something. A potato chip.

It took me a minute to evaluate the situation. Husband, seemingly oblivious to the hardship I had endured to prepare our meal, standing there staring at me with a big shit-eating grin on his face. And a ketchup potato chip held delicately, elegantly, between his fingers. He raised his eyebrows as if to say, “are you even seeing this?” And I wasn’t, until he handed it over.

theperfectchip/stories.jpg

“It’s for you,” he said.

I took it and stared.

“Isn’t it the most perfect chip you’ve ever seen?”

And suddenly something inside clicked. It was a sudden understanding of what was being offered to me. And in a split second my icy resentment melted into love.

Why? Because I understood his internal story and the meaning behind his actions. I remembered how much he valued the quality of chips (having heard countless times how disappointing it is every night when enjoying his favorite treat to have to sift through handfuls of crumbs to find a decent morsel). This chip represented something of significant value to him – a diamond in the rough. And here it was, on offer to me.

In my inner narrative an unblemished snack bite is not anything to write home about. It has no meaning. It’s a CHIP for crying out loud. But to him this was the ultimate offering of affection.

We all go through similar situations all day long. While I am telling myself one story, you are telling yourself another, grappling with the details of life and trying to manipulate these things into pockets of meaning that justify our emotions and make sense of the world around us. And when we communicate, we try to meet in the middle – to understand the internal stories of each other through empathy so that we can agree on meaning enough to get by and get along.

But we don’t always meet. And often, we aren’t even aware that we don’t. But when it matters – when we have to live with a person, for example, and communicate over the most mundane details imaginable on a minute-by-minute basis - these discrepancies have repercussions.

Sometimes we need to evaluate our stories – change the plotlines a bit, adjust perspectives, focus on different elements of the setting – so that the values coming through are more in line with others. We need to be understood, and we need to understand.

I ate that chip, with all its crimson, salty goodness, with more relish than I’ve ever enjoyed a snack before. And somehow we were again on the same page, happy again inside our shared story.

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