18 Jan A Brief Inquiry into the Stories We Tell Ourselves
My entire life I’ve been told I have an active imagination. Put me in a room with my dolls as a kid and I would’ve come up with an 8-part mini-series complete with detailed character backgrounds and an epilogue. While the label “imaginative” was given as praise, I’ve always loathed how I let my imagination get the best of me.
You see, my brain orchestrates these incredibly thorough stories for every aspect of my life. I have crazy ideas about how my prof interprets the phrasing of my emails, or why my friend had to reschedule plans. While I know that the tales I tell myself are ones of complete fiction, they are glued to the walls of my mind, tightly weaved into my perception of the world around me.
I presume that this is a mechanism to make sense of the information my brain has collected. The process of understanding the past and predicting the future is constructed from limited knowledge and I must fill the gaps to gain some semblance of control.
In some ways, I’m grateful for my imagination. As my mind runs through the endless questions and possibilities, it paves way for creativity. I can see different perspectives, feel more self-assured. However, it can also be limiting. I can become stubborn in thought, circulating around the same minute details and jumping to conclusions.
There’s a natural inclination to attach ourselves to expectations, especially around things or people we care about. However, centering happiness or self-perception around an outcome will only heighten the fall. This is when the stories we tell ourselves, as riveting and truthful as they may seem, become destructive.
We become so comfortable in the scripts we create that we relate to the action in our heads more than the reality in front of us. Thus, we try to construct our reality to follow what’s been playing in our head.
In times of panic, often as a result of anxiety, our reactions can be self-sabotage masked as self-preservation. When there is too much ambiguity, it is easy to feel vulnerable. It’s easy to let the chaos in our head leak out in our behaviour, and without sufficient support, the floodgates will open. When the thoughts dry up, we harden even more around our insecurity. We build walls to conceal the breakdown of the interior.
These scenarios are often brought to life by external sources. School, work, relationships – we interpret facts by creating narratives, unaware of how they shape our wellbeing. We can disassociate from those emotions when the scenario is in hindsight; when the story has a clear conclusion. Our impulse to overthink and predict will still continue if we’re unable to close that chapter. In a social media age, many of the main characters of our self-told stories orbit our lives, liking photos or sending texts. In the “privacy” of our electronic world, a personal notification still feels fairly intimate. The appraisals of lingering interactions are different than those of a run-in at Metro. We’re unable to disassociate value from what we see, and we ultimately misplace our individual importance. Thus, the stories have not ended, and our imagination cannot completely subside.
It’s impossible to not tell ourselves these stories. It’s frustrating to admit that we don’t know everything, that our inferences and analyses are incorrect. However, to realize our limitations may be the only way to achieve peace of mind. Our experience feels collective, but our interpretations are not universal. How we think and act is a reflection of a world we’ve constructed for ourselves.
Our imaginations are healthy until they aren’t. I’m slowly learning to see that magic exists within the uncertainty. So, I will tell you what I’ve been (trying) to tell myself: there’s nothing wrong with daydreams but remember that the stories we tell ourselves are just that – stories.