The stories we tell ourselves narrate our reality

I spent a lazy Sunday afternoon recently lost in a book. I was pursuing escapism, not enlightenment. So I was a little shocked to come across a snippet of insight that had me reflecting deeply for days afterwards.

The book was Stephen Tobolowsky’s My Adventures with God (2017). Let’s be clear, Tobolowsky is no philosopher. He is a character actor and musician best known for his role as the annoying insurance agent Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day. Thus my surprise when he delivered me a brain explosion.

Tobolowsky explained how Isaac Newton defined how we perceive the world in three dimensions – length, width and depth. Albert Einstein added to this by including time as the fourth dimension of our experience. Feeling that this definition is still incomplete, Tobolowsky posits that there is a fifth dimension to our human experience – that of narrative. He claims that the stories we tell ourselves causes us to perceive events with unique subjectivity, resulting in our responding to the world through the self-limiting lense of those stories.

The concept of narrative was not Tobolowsky’s invention. Many philosophers and psychotherapists have articulated wonderful insights into the permeating nature of our individual narratives and how the stories we tell ourselves create the world we live in. What was stunningly brilliant about Tobolowsky’s explanation was his unapologetic inclusion of narrative as the fifth dimension of the human experience, bringing our subjective experience into the realm of the scientific.

With science, the discovery of a new fact eliminates an erroneous hypothesis. Sometimes a new fact will overturn what was previously considered a fact. In society we see the re-authoring of social norms, laws and beliefs as a natural evolution. Why, then, should we not consider that our own narratives may need updating from time to time? I think the answer is that our narrative, like the nose on our face, is too close for us to see.

Narrative Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that explores the stories we tell ourselves. The process is respectful and non-blaming and is premised on the individual being the expert in their life. By examining our narrative, we are able to see how some stories no longer serve us well. This gives us the ability to discard or re-author them. Narrative Therapy can be a liberating process of detangling subconscious beliefs and finding new ways of being.

When next you feel stuck or that your options in life are limited, consider the narrative you are holding on to. Is it true or just a perception. Perhaps the next chapter of your life can be beyond your wildest dreams.

Will Bonney



Category : Blog & Emotional Intelligence & Narrative Therapy

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