Becky (beckyzoole) wrote,

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Composing a Life Story

Thanks to supergee for the link to this great essay by Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing a Life Story.

Bateson discusses "the stories you make about your life, the stories you tell first to yourself and then to other people, the stories you use as a lens for interpreting experience as it comes along. What I want to say is that you can play with, compose, multiple versions of a life."

I have long thought that it is what we tell ourselves about our experiences, rather than our experiences themselves, that are crucial to our mental health and social well-being. My personal story of my life is part and parcel of my attitude, my self-confidence, and my integrity. It determines my character as it is itself determined by my character, in an endless feedback loop.

When I am depressed, I read the theme of my life story as repeatedly failing to reach my potential, as a sad tale of a wasted life. But when I retell my life story while in a more optimistic mood, it becomes an interesting narrative of personal growth and adventure, with more fascinating episodes yet to come.

I think the most insidiously destructive life stories are the ones in which the protagonist is A Survivor. This is a better character to be than A Victim, but it still emphasizes abuse and tribulations, instead of the humdrum reality of life. Its attraction is its Drama; each person can live their own Mary Sue story. It is harmful, however, in the way it affects relationships with others. Most of all, it is harmful in its disconnect with reality.

It may make you feel better to say that you curse and honk at slow drivers that make you slow down behind them, because your alcoholic father used to beat you when you disobeyed, so now you feel outrage at anyone who manipulates your behavior. But you are still being a jackass when you let your road rage explode. Your alcoholic father isn't standing there beating you now. You may be proud of surviving your childhood, but that doesn't give you the right to inflict your own dramatic life story on other people. Work through the anger, work through the pain, and then, and this is most difficult, work through the pride. And then forget about Drunk Dad. Stop fighting him in your mind. Let go of the precious pain you hold onto, that makes you a hero -- it hurts. Let go of it.

I'm working on letting go of my own heroic stories. Sometimes I miss drama. But not much, not anymore.
Tags: mental health

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