What stories are you repeating?

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Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash

Repetition is buit into the way humans work.  We wake up each day, and perform a daily routine.  Even if you try to buck the trend, your unconscious bodily systems are wrapped into diurnal routines which repeat themselves.  You respond to light and darkness a certain way, and your hormonal and chemical balance changes as the day progresses.

REPEATING BEHAVIOUR PATTERNS

Your behaviour works the same way.  When you relate to others, for instance, you fall into particular patterns characteristic of you.  They are patterns you have learned a while ago.  Whether they work for you or against you, they form your ‘instinctive’ reaction to a situation.

You will notice friends who work like a recording.  When you phone them up, they come up with the same routines in the same order.  Perhaps they start on the same story.  You might recognise some of the stories we get stuck in… here are a couple of examples:

STORY 1 – I JUST DON’T SEEM TO BE ABLE TO GET MOTIVATED

This is a great story if you want to avoid doing something which you would otherwise consider constructive.  Whenever you anticipate any difficulty whatsoever, simply stop right where you are, and go back to your old habits.  Preferably, lie down a lot.  Call it resting.  A good phrase is ‘I know I should be doing [whatever it is], but I just don’t seem to be able to get motivated.’

This has two big advantages.  Firstly, the vagueness of ‘seem’ means that the listener can’t get hold of anything to encourage you by.  Your process of disablement is mysterious, and the role of the other is simply to empathise.  Secondly, you can sound guilty, but do nothing.  If you can, make your guilt disabling too, so that you are trapped in a cycle of inaction-guilt-inaction.  Brilliant.  No action will result, and you can lie down for as long as you like.

STORY 2 – THEY’RE MAKING IT SO HARD FOR ME

This is one step beyond story 1.  You have managed to move from self-blame to blame of others.  Well done.  The trick here is to get used to a speech which lists out everything that everyone else is doing to prevent you being able to act.  Make sure that your story is full of how you are waiting on everyone else to get back to you.  If possible, make your communications to others long and tortured; and make it totally unclear what you want from them, and by when.  Now and again, explode into rage, when you ‘realise’ that you are being ‘taken for a ride’.

A good phrase here is ‘I am trying to [whatever it is], but they don’t seem to understand.’  Again, the vagueness of ‘seem’ means that others’ lack of understanding is blurry, and therefore hard to prove or disprove.  And furthermore you can sound well-intentioned, while never actually solving the problem.  Both this and story 1 rely on two great sources of power: vagueness, and saintliness.  You are well-intentioned, but somehow (mysteriously) things are against you.  In story 1 your own inexplicable behaviour is against saintly you;  and in story 2, other people’s inexplicable obstruction is against saintly you.

HUMAN BEHAVIOUR AND INTERPRETATION

I guess both the above regularly-used stories go to some foundations of human behaviour.  From an early age, we develop ways to give ourselves an easy life, short cuts to avoid suffering.  When they work, we reuse them.  Soon, we have a repertoire of often-repeated tropes.

Both stories are examples of narratives which interpret events in a particular way.  They are designed, in the short term, to avoid suffering, but in the long term they trap you in a cycle of despair.

FINDING ALTERNATIVES TO REPEATING SELF-DEFEATING BEHAVIOUR

This is the hard bit.  There are ways to cancel out the repetition of self-defeating narratives.  But they involve restructuring how you understand yourself and others to interact.

The problem with the above narratives is that they treat a theoretical ‘you’ as the centre of the universe, and then find a theoretical ‘enemy’ which is not the real ‘you’, and blame it.  In story 1 ‘saintly you’ is being disabled by ‘bad you’.  And in story 2, ‘saintly you’ is being disabled by ‘bad others’.

But try this.  Try forgetting the needs of ‘saintly you’ for a while.  Look outwards, and do a bit of reinterpretation.  Instead of ‘bad you’ and ‘bad others’, try redefining them as ‘suffering you’ and ‘suffering others’.  Instead of framing by disablement, frame by enablement.

REVISED STORIES

Two revised stories emerge from a reintepretation of events.  Let’s call them ‘new story 1’ and ‘new story 2’.

NEW STORY 1 – I INTEND TO SHOW COMPASSION AND ENABLEMENT TO MYSELF

This story provides a better self-relationship than old story 1.  Old story 1 was a passive story of self-disablement.  New story 1 is an active story of self-enablement.  You are not the disabled centre of the universe, but a place from which enablement, however slowly, can emerge.

NEW STORY 2 – I INTEND TO SHOW COMPASSION AND ENABLEMENT TO OTHERS

This story provides better other-relationships than old story 2.  Old story 2 was a passive story of disablement by others.  New story 2 is an active story of other-enablement.  Again, you are not the disabled centre of the universe, but a place from which enablement, however slowly, can emerge.

AN EXERCISE

Steadily, day by day, learn to see yourself as a source of compassion and enablement to others.  It will take a lot of repetition, but it will change your ‘poor me’ stories of suffering, to stories of compassion and enablement.

SUMMARY

Humans, as creatures, repeat behaviour patterns.  We repeat the same narratives; in particular, poor me narratives, in which we are a victim of ourselves and others.  We can choose better narratives, in which our role is to show compassion and enablement to others.

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