Our brains are wired for story. Story provides the way for us to understand things, to make sense of the world, to connect everything we take in. Story also provides us with a recognizable pattern of beginning, middle, and end, and when we see that pattern as completed, our brains even release a little hit of dopamine (the “feel good hormone”) as a reward.
When there is an unknown or a blank space, we will often feel the body and the mind respond in high alert as our nervous system cannot find peace. The ambiguity is intolerable. When the ending to the story or the pattern is missing, the nervous system goes into a panic and instinctually responds as if we are in an unsafe situation.
In unsafe situations, the rational and logical portion of the brain is shut off and the older, more powerful portion of the brain concerned only with survival takes over. The only objective now is to fill in the blank with whatever the brain can find in order to calm the nervous system and feel safe again. Notice the “whatever the brain can find” part that was just mentioned. To calm the nervous system, the ending of the story that we fill in does not have to be accurate, true, real, helpful, or anything else for that matter. It just has to complete the pattern.
According to Brene’ Brown, “a story that’s based on limited real data and imagined data and blended into a coherent, emotionally satisfying version of reality” makes a conspiracy theory. And we are all walking around with conspiracy theories in our heads, shaping our behaviors to match up with what the story is telling us.
But, wait, there’s more. After we make up the ending of the story, we often go tell others what we now believe to be truth based on the conspiracy theory. So, we believe we are telling the truth, but it is actually a lie because the story wasn’t accurate to begin with. This is called a confabulation and it creates more issues that have to be dealt with later. Confabulations can hurt our relationships with others as well as with ourselves. We make up stories about our own worth and then behave in ways that support the story. We tell ourselves things that we have accepted as the truth that are based on very limited data.
Again, we all do it. So, there’s the “you’re not alone” piece that helps us to feel better, but what do we do?
First, we have to recognize that we are making up part of the story and question what else we need to know to be able to move forward from a place that won’t cause us more issues we will have to deal with later. Next, we have this conversation with ourselves and then if needed, we have it with others to fact-check and get clear on what is real and what we have made up. Then, we allow ourselves to feel what we feel, we breathe, we reach out for support, and we deal with what is really happening.
So, this week, let’s start to notice our own stories. Maybe we do a little fact-checking by getting curious about what information may be missing and what we have made up. And maybe we even get brave enough to have a conversation with ourselves or others about the story we are making up.
As always, I will be practicing right along with you. Reach out anytime- I would be happy to chat with you about it.
Chat again soon,