The Personal Narrative
The Personal Narrative is the story you tell yourself about yourself.
You are the fictional character your Mind created, and who behaves and acts accordingly a preset storyline. Your mind will make whatever it takes so everything happens accordingly to that storyline.
This character is also referred to as the Ego in literature.
The Personal Narrative should not be confused with the symptoms of Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, etc.
We all have a Personal Narrative
These convenient labels have been created to describe the undesirables who do not commit crimes but are still social annoyances.
We all have a Personal Narrative
Now, you will certainly argue that you know objectively who you are. You can certainly list your qualities and your flaws, explain what you do for a living and what is your position on many topics.
But you are most likely deluding yourself.
This is not who you are, this is what you are telling yourself -and others- about yourself. That is not even your Personal Narrative, but just one part of it.
The Ego is not who you are. The Ego is who you need to believe you are.
Have you ever said or heard:
- I am the kind of person who…
- I don’t know why I have just said that
These are expressions of the Personal Narrative. Only superficial expressions, though.
Life and the World are unpredictable, yet we constantly need to make decisions and to do so we need a degree of certainty.
There are many ways to reach certainty, but the mind can be using some basic tricks to get there faster:
- Eliminating the noise around the information that concerns us.
- Not seeking any further as soon as some suitable conclusion has been found.
- Imposing a preset answer so to eliminate the need for information altogether.
How do we sort out information has been preset a long time ago, although it has its updates as we go along. These preset filters are often called a Paradigm. A Paradigm is a neat package summing-up of our Beliefs.
A Paradigm is a One-size-fits-all mental solution
The Personal Narrative is basically a shortcut to apply our Paradigm. It is a bundled version of our Beliefs wrapped up in an easy to understand set of instructions. A one-size-fits-all kind of approach of Life.
By creating a set character, we eliminate the need to analyze every single bit of incoming information. We know already what to do and want so we do not need to take any information to revise that decision. The set character also has the scripted response in case the decision would be questioned.
This preset character is very handy to answer difficult questions. All one has to say is “I am a [fill the blank] so I do/think/prefer/like [fill the blank]”. No need to ponder the details or the particulars of the situations.
By using (verbally, mentally or unconsciously) the I am a [fill the blank] statement, one is imposing a persona that does not need to explain itself and suppress the need to gather information since the position or decision is already taken.
Then the I do/think/prefer/like [fill the blank] eradicates any subtlety or details. The position or decision is taken in bulk purposely ignoring the possibility of an exception.
This is a cartoonish example, although not difficult to find in real life.
- I am a [pick a political party] so I think [pick a political issue]
- I am a [pick a religious entity] so I believe [pick a life issue]
Critical thinking is not needed.
Yet this relates only to the conscious version of the Personal Narrative.
Conscious and Unconscious Narrative
The Personal Narrative is present at the conscious and the unconscious level and the two versions often actually don’t match. The unconscious version is the one shaped to serve our Beliefs and take action, the conscious one is usually built so as to justify the actions taken by the hidden sister.
Sometimes the inner Personal Narrative will have you behave in a certain way that conflicts with the outer Personal Narrative or the current social situation. In such a case, we use the I don’t know why I have just said that apology. One-size-fits-all sometimes does not fit at all.
Do not underestimate the power of the Personal Narrative
Do not underestimate the power of the Personal Narrative. In order to match the expectations of the scenario, one is able to do major self-sabotage and self-harm. Or to engage in an extreme behavior.
The Personal Narrative is constructed essentially to survive in society. There is no need to define yourself as “the kind of person who…” in the wilderness.
(Yet most people stranded in the wilds will die of shame – See the article, Life is a Game )
Suppose a person has some very hidden conceptions about money being a source of trouble. This person may avoid making money and having money. This will be the hidden Personal Narrative. So her behavior will be consistent with that Belief, like keeping low pay jobs, not saving money, etc.
In her outer Personal Narrative, she will defend her situation by blaming the Economy or refusing to be a Capitalist.
(please note how generic the terms are).
Every time this person will have something left from her paycheck, sure enough, Shit will happen and take her back in the hole. Sometimes it will be as simple as a super sale not to be missed. Whatever actually happened, she will be able to justify it.
- She had to do it because she is the kind of person who…
- Or she could have done otherwise but since she is not the kind of person who…
- Her explanation will be You do not understand, I had no choice.
Rings a bell?
A real-life example
For a long time, my Personal Narrative involved working unthinkably long hours. My dad was into it himself and the heroes of his stories were employees beating themselves at the task. I am talking about 12 to 18 hour days, 7 days a week, for months at the time. (When I started to work 40 hour weeks, it felt like paid vacations).
The official story was my need for money and my work ethics, but the undercover motivation, unknown to me at the time, was to please an imaginary father from whom I was actually estranged.
None of that money was ever saved or used for any contribution.
And of course, when people were impressed by my energy and saluted my commitment I would modestly brush the compliments aside although very flattered, having waited desperately for that acknowledgment.
Part of the Narrative was being a hero without medals.
I played the part in full for almost three decades!
Do not underestimate the power of the Personal Narrative.
Fear of Criticism
The Personal Narrative is what keep people staying in unsatisfying lives.
Most do not even envision another way of doing things, others will do not see how things could be different and those who dare to dream just squash it.
Because breaking away from the character is immediately punished by social criticism and the Fear of Criticism is one of the strongest Fear ever.
- What do you want me to do? This is who I am
- What am I going to say to my parents/kids/spouse?
- We’ll see when the kids are grown up/when I retire/etc.
The Personal Narrative is not your friend
It may seem that the Personal Narrative is not your friend, and actually, it is not. Because it deprives you of the Moment. You do not appreciate the Now for what it is but for what you look like from the outside, often not even being aware of it. If any decision leaves you with a pinch in the guts, most likely you did not act from your Limbic system being present in the Moment but from preset instructions bypassing the Moment.
But most likely you will dismiss that pinch with a great explanation or an undefeated excuse.
The Ego is a powerful opponent.
The good news
The good news is that the Personal Narrative can be reconstructed because Beliefs are just that, beliefs. The same way you have been convinced that Santa Claus existed and later on that he did not exist, you can be made to believe that money is a good thing, or that you deserve happiness, etc.
When Self-Help authors offer to identify, suppress, change your Beliefs (often called the Negative Beliefs or the Limiting Beliefs) this is what they are talking about.
The idea is to kill the primal Personal Narrative we involuntarily inherited and either replace it with a more useful one or suppress the need for such thing and learn to live Life in the Now.
The Ego is not your Amigo.
— Master Herbert – World Martial Art Center in New York City