Personal Myth Building
The human mind is incapable of remembering every last detail of every situation that occurs in life. A lot of experience is retained in your subconscious and is built into your personality and instincts. A portion of our experience is just raw information that we deem important enough to remember for future recall. Then there’s what we generally refer to as our memories.
Our memories are snippet narratives that are from our experiences. You are your own historian. Your mind is a library of your narratives. While having one narrator helps with continuity, it’s awful for perspective. Any historian knows that the writer of history has just as much influence on history as the events themselves.
So a delightful pratfall of your own memory is creating flawed narratives. Two mistakes are often made. The first is the bystander narrative. You aren’t in control of the situation. You refuse responsibility. These are memories that you may vilify everything but yourself. The self aware might make some small concessions that you weren’t totally a bystander, but in general, you were not the source of the action.
The second flawed narrative is egocentric narrative. Whether the memory is good or bad, you accept the full responsibility of what happened. You take all the blame for a mistake or a bad event. You take all the credit for success or a good event. In these two narratives, you have essentially constructed a myth.
There’s nothing wrong with these flaws. They even serve a purpose. The bystander narratives help develop your coping mechanism for the events of life. You have to live in a world with other people who make their own decisions. Bad things can happen to you even if you have done nothing wrong. Windfalls might fall in your lap for no rhyme or reason. You learn to accept that life must go on. Otherwise, you may rot in regret.
The egocentric narratives are reminders of the mistakes and correct choices you’ve made. They are useful bits of information. The details of the contributing factors aren’t bits of useful information. These narratives can immensely aid in your decision making because whatever you did in that memory led to the result that you remember. Your decision might not have been responsible at all, but in your experience, that’s what you did and that was the result.
What these flawed narratives can’t do on their own is to teach you a lesson. Life is not a rollercoaster ride that you strap yourself in and the events are beyond your control. It is interactive. You need to understand what influence you have on the events around you. You need to learn how to utilize that influence to re-frame your life going forward. You have to ask, “How can I avoid that?”, “How can I change that?”, and “How can I improve that?”.
Your life decisions may be correlation and not causation. They might be contributing factors instead of the main impetus of an outcome. You can make the same mistake again by allowing your egocentric narrative to be your guide and only then realize that you weren’t the only factor. You can avoid that problem by dissecting the nuance of the event and determine what really was the causation of a result.
Late in high school, I had a weak grasp of this idea. I tried to combat the problem by remembering as many details and documenting as much of my life as I could. As I began to experience more in life, I continued to amp up the intensity and breadth of my observations. I got sucked into self evaluation circles where I went over and over decisions I had made and decisions I have yet to make. It helped me better understand myself but it stalled my progress in other time consuming goals.
After years of getting caught up in the details and exhausting myself, I chased after the big picture. What does this all mean? The panic button was hit. I felt like I spent too much time on the mental checklist and life was moving on without me. Did I screw up my life irreparably because I was too busy trying to figure out was wrong with me?
I feel that it’s important to maintain the usefulness of the narratives. It’s how humans learn and remember things. Yet, it’s equally important to make sure that our personal narratives aren’t myths that don’t allow us to learn lessons and mature as people.
I’ll wrap this up with a personal story. After a traumatically bad breakup where I felt like I was making large strides to improve myself for the other person, I immediately went into the bystander narrative. I vilified her. I was angry. I was upset. I did not want to accept any responsibility of my own pain.
I shut her entirely out of my life for years. When I realized I needed to deal with that pain to move on in my life, I reached out to her. I needed closure and an explanation. She readily admitted her immaturity and her mistakes. She readily accepted responsibility.
It wasn’t until several months later when I was giving her some grief that she unleashed a tirade on me about my imperfections in the relationship. In particular, she had to repeatedly make concessions because of my insecurity at the time. In my mind, I didn’t value her concessions because I thought what she wanted wasn’t important or that I was already taking care of them. I just felt like her concessions and subsequent complaints were pointless because I felt like if she took a more mature perspective she’d realize those concessions weren’t a big deal.
I completely ignored the fact that I knew her personality and maturity level. If I accepted the responsibility of being with her, I should have understood that I had to adjust to her as much as she had to adjust to me. I couldn’t simply say, “You’re wrong. I’m right.” That’s not what you do when you love someone. I dramatically failed in appreciating her desires, and I was far too dismissive of effort she made for me. Even though I knew she needed to grow and I knew she could grow, I didn’t let her grow. Which was hypocritical from my end when I always told her I believed in her.
In that one tirade, she deconstructed the myth that I had created in my mind and managed to teach me a lesson from a relationship that ended several years prior. It was a clear lesson that my myth construction stunted my ability to learn from my mistakes.