The Stories We Tell Ourselves

My previous posts covered how templates were formed in the hippocampus ready for use in day to day life. These can be useful and sometimes not as we will find out.

We create many many templates from the moment we are born. Our personality in part can be attributed to many of these. The things we do to get attention when we need it, how we make people laugh, how we explain ourselves, the routines we follow and more. All of the things that uniquely make us act the way we do, exist within the hippocampus.

Some of these templates are practically hardwired. They are neural pathways that have been strengthened through regular, repeated use. The more they have been used, the more the pathways have grown strong and reliable over time. Like a single carriageway turning into a 4 lane motorway. These are habits the habits and patterns that we live our day to day lives by, they are in some way constituent parts that make up our personalities.

Knowing that these are templated responses, allows us a certain amount of sterlised obervation and therefore control over these. If we can identify the pattern and recognise it the next time we are into the routine, then guess what, we can engage our our pre-frontal cortex and determine whether there are alternative options. We can objectively look at the template and determine whether it is serving us or not. If it’s the latter then we can chose something different.

Another way to look at these templates, is as a story that we tell ourselves. Typically within our minds, we are chattering all the time to make sense of the world. We give things meaning, ask questions of the world, we consider practically every moment.

These stories are alway told by the little voice in our heads. The voice that we can recognise if we go silent for 30 seconds. If we stop what we’re doing, we can listen to ourselves talk.

If you are wondering what I mean for this, please do stay silent for 30 seconds and recognise that it’s your voice that’s reading this to you in a familiar sounding tone. It is also asking questions, relating this to what you know already and even challenging the contents of this article. If you still don’t have an idea what I am talking about, it’s probably the very thoughts saying “what little voice, i don’t have a little voice”… it’s that little voice.

The voice obviously portrays our thoughts in language and serves a very interesting function within out brains. It allows communication between different regions and networks. It’s believed to originate in the Brocas region of the brain, however although we cannot see thoughts, we can determine that thoughts impact multiple parts of the brain. It is theorised that language is used to activate several parts of the brain as we discussed earlier. Talking to yourself is much more than a conversation.

Talking to yourself puts parts of the brain into action. What you say to yourself can matter and make a difference. Now we are all very visual too, in our mind we communicate in words, pictures and emotions. The words organise the pictures and emotions. Consequently it’s why stories impress on us so much. They paint a series of events to us that we can mentally see and experience. We can recall events and how we reacted and we can imagine scenarios based on stories too. Stories are very effective ways of templating complex things that have taken place.

So what’s in a story? Well, we tell ourselves some tall tales on the whole. Stories are just that, a made up version of events. If you think about these templates as stories that just exist in our own minds and our minds alone, then there is great power in knowing that these stories are not the accurate record of what took place. They are our retelling of an experience. They are not an objective truth. The memory is not infallible either, we cannot rely on our memories in many scenarios. We know, when police are investigating crimes from many years ago, they need multiple witnesses to provide evidence on single facts. People remember things very differently. The stories created about their experience are their memories and they are not always an accurate reflection of the events that took place.

Here is an example of a template I made for myself and on recognising the story I had believed for many years, it gave me the freedom to step outside of this and chose something more positive.

Caveat: before I begin my story, I must state for the record that the below is what I made something mean, my father is an amazing, loving, kind and superb human being whom I think the world of.

I remember a number of occasions when I was young, particularly of times with my dad when although he was around and physically in the same same location as me, he mentally was not. He could be absorbed in anything but me it would seem. He would be watching the tv, he wouldn’t do things with me, wouldn’t listen to me or engage with me. There’s a couple of occasions that come to mind. Firstly dad sat watching the TV and me trying to get his attention to tell him what I had been up to (or something equally thrilling), however he did not hear me. Including when I was actually shouting at him “DAD!!”. There was no response until he finally snapped at me and I had penetrated his world, “What!” came the reply.

As a child, experiencing this many many times as well as other scenarios where he got angry with me (he had a short fuse) around something I had done, was processed mentally, internalised and became a story to me. It became a template about not being good enough to be listened to. Not being interesting enough to be heard. This manifested itself in other ways as it became a implanted and strong template. It is still there today. One of the things I realised in this story was that I had difficulties in looking people directly in the eye. I was indecisive about where to project my gaze, I often found myself thinking ‘should I look at the left or right eye, will they think I’m not looking at them if I’m not looking them in the eyes but between them’. I didn’t know what was right and therefore I felt like I just wasn’t good enough. It’s a strange story as it had such an impact, yet its true.

The effect of this story on me was that I would leave conversations with people feeling the worse person, not good enough, not clever enough and not able to say things that I wanted to. I certainly would not look them in the eye whilst communicating for the most part.

Having realised this is purely a story that I had created at such a young age means that I can now see it for what it is. It is a way of explaining the emotions I felt as a child that I couldn’t deal with or process at the time.

Living like this has meant that I didn’t communicate with others if I didn’t need to. Speaking to people directly and personally about my own life, interests or activities has always been difficult.

So on recognising this, I did something radical. I faced my fears and I spoke to my father about the fact I had made some stories up around him that impacted the way in which I acted in day to day life. I explained that I was sorry for holding on to this and forgave him. Meaning that I wasn’t going to blame him anymore.

Now I can see that it was not the truth and just a version of events from the time, I can let go of it. I am now an adult now with a child, so it helps that I can also see that he was a father coming home from long days in the office and he was tired. He might not have been able to give his energy to his son at that time and needed to recharge. It didn’t mean anything, it was just a story from my perspective.

Recognising that this was just a template, a story that was not a real recollection of events meant that I could step outside of this and tell him what I really I wanted to. What I really wanted to tell him was that I love him very much, that I wanted to get to know much more about him and spend more time with him. This as it turns out was not a civilised conversation, but an emotional one from my point of view.

I organised us having lunch in the coming days and took him out. I found out about the wonderful human being he really is as we talked about all sorts of stories from his youth as well as the most incredible things that he did that I never knew about. He told me about helping people in the most remarkable ways. He once bought someone a car who was having major difficulties in their life financially! This was an entirely different relationship I had with my dad with the old story I had made up removed and out of the way I was able to see what was there in front of me clearly. My dad.

There was an added benefit of this too. I now also look people dead in the eye and it has not been an issue since. I feel more positive and able to communicate with everyone; particularly with those older and more senior than me.

This has stuck. It is a new template that I have access to and I’m working to strengthen. I’m not perfect, I still have moments where I don’t feel good enough, but I now know where this comes from. I therefore know that I can choose differently on recognising this and create a different way of reacting in the world. I not only love my dad, I love myself. I am good enough.

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