Related to: Self-consciousness wants to make everything about itself (by jessicata), UNIVERSAL LOVE, SAID THE CACTUS PERSON (by SSC) and Ms. Blue, meet Mr. Green
Edit (Jul 17, 2019): The concept I'm describing is basically cognitive fusion.
There's an idea that I think is really important to understand and to try to communicate. I think Jessica in her post touched on it a little, but that touch inspired me to give it a shot myself. However, instead of focusing on social dynamics, I'm going to focus on an individual's internal world and interpretation.
Here are a few examples of mental narratives that I'm going to dissect. (I borrowed a few from Jessica's post and a few from the SSC post.) See if you can find the ones that happen to you. Or see if you can understand the pattern to find ones that are not on the list.
1. This thing that's happening is bad. I wish it wouldn't happen.
2. Am I a bad person for participating in this? I think something's wrong with me.
3. I'm not a bad person! I'm definitely in the right here.
4. I'm feeling attacked. I feel like people are against me.
5. I don't feel safe here. I think they'll hurt me.
6. I feel like I'm the odd one out. I don't think I belong here.
7. I don't understand this at all. What am I missing? There's a clue here somewhere. If I can find it, then I'll understand it.
To try to understand the pattern and what to do with it, I'll provide four different lenses.
What does it feel like to experience these narratives? Look and see.
For me, it feels constraining. It feels like sensing a wall and then pushing away from it. Or pushing into it. It feels like a river that has hit the bank and has to turn. My body feels tighter. My awareness feels more narrow or disappears entirely. The thought grows bigger in my mind until it dominates. Until, just for a moment, it feels like my entire mental reality is described by the circumstance. By how I feel attacked. Or by how I feel like I don't belong. It stops being a thought and becomes reality.
So how does it feel when the narrative ends? To me it feels like someone was hugging me super tight and then let go. It feels like a release. An expansion. An exhale. It feels like freedom. Freedom to reconsider. To review. To remember other sides of the problem. Freedom to forget. Freedom to move on.
We can also think of those narratives as serving a particular purpose. Like other TAPs, they were installed there for some reason, probably a long time. Probably because someone told us. Or probably because a "bad" thing happened to us and we really wanted for it to not happen again.
Each narrative has many triggers. But once triggered, the action is pretty straight forward. And it's usually always the same: recount the narrative and listen to it. Just like when Revolio Clockberg Jr. hears about Gear Wars, he has to tell you all about it. And once he starts, there's no stopping it. Like clockwork.
One of the best ways to talk about narratives is to talk about stories and movies. Movies are compelling. They draw us in. When we're in a middle of a good film, we forget who we are. We feel wholeheartedly the emotion, the action, the tension. Where is all of this going? Well... we know. It's going where the movie going. There's only one track.
And for a great movie, that's a fun track to be on. But for the narratives I've described, that's not a fun track at all. You've seen some of them thousands of times already. Do you want to see it again? All it costs is a few seconds of your time and a few drops of your sanity.
"I'm feeling attacked. Like people are against me." is a movie. It's a lousy, poorly written, utterly predictable movie. And you know exactly where it's heading. "Me against the world." Or "Look at me, I'm so independent. I don't need anyone." Or "Hah! They're all against me, but look who is winning now!" And, honestly, even that is giving that movie too much credit. Because 99.9% of the time the only place that movie is taking you to is: "I'm feeling attacked. Like people are against me. This sucks. This sucks. This sucks."
When you're gripped by one of such narratives, you're in the car. When you aren't, you're free. Get out of the car and stay out!
Q: I'm experiencing all these mental narratives. What do I do? What's the skill I need to learn to avoid them?
A: Note how that question itself is an example of the narrative / car you're trying to avoid. Drop it.
Q: I was trying hard to avoid all the mental narratives you described. But then I ran into one head first. Where and how should I put up more walls so that this wouldn't happen?
A: Stop putting up walls. Stop seeing walls. Stop trying to avoid them by creating more walls. When you're not in the car, there are no walls and there are no roads.
"Then I can’t get out of the car. I want to get out of the car. But I need help. And the first step to getting help is for you to factor my number." is being in the car. It's watching a movie about how you're stuck and how you're missing something. It's running a TAP that says: IF I don't understand something THEN I'm unsafe until I do. It's screaming at the cactus person, demanding an answer.
As long as you think there's a car or that you have something to do about it, you can't get out of it. Stop trying to get out of the car and get out of the car.
The invitation is to notice when these narratives arise. Just notice. You don't have to do anything about them. You don't have to stop them or avoid them. Just notice when one starts. Notice when you're in it. Notice when it ends. Notice when it's not there.
And if on one of those occasions you decide to pull over that car and get out... well, I promise you the car is not going to be upset.