We are storytelling creatures. We tell stories about who we are and where we come from and what we are doing and where we hope to go. Around us, the people of our tribe, family and workplaces tell stories too. Stories are not the same as truth – they are more flexible. They grow rapidly, and not always for the best of reasons. The person who does not like you can create a story that you are lazy or mean spirited and if they are a better storyteller than you, then your workplace may come to interpret everything you do in that light. Once there is a story, everything is understood through it, and it is hard to break. If the story is that you are mad, saying ‘I am sane’ sounds like delusion.
When you can’t win, when things are never taken as you meant them, when it doesn’t seem to matter what you do, or what you try, or how you change, then there could well be a story at play. If people won’t let go of their story about you, what you change makes no odds. First, the story has to be changed, and this is no easy thing. It is not always easy to figure out what the story might be, it takes time, observation and creative thinking to try and work out what ideas about you would make sense of how people relate to you. You may have internalised other people’s beliefs without noticing it, you may equally be in for some challenges. Perhaps you were the designated black sheep of the family and hadn’t noticed. You may be the workplace scapegoat, or you may be just as burdened if everyone else always expects you to take charge and sort things out. You may be the strong one no one needs to be gentle with, the reliable one, the one who will always help out. Apparently-positive stories can be just as much of a nuisance as damning ones if you can’t live up to them – and no one can, not all the time.
Once you have a fair idea what your role is, what story you have been given, you can look at how to deal with it. Tired of never being able to win? Try not competing in the first place. Tired of being expected to have superhuman reserves of energy and ideas? Try being more honest about your limits and boundaries. Sometimes the story can be changed over time.
There are stories that are created not specifically for you, but because you have been chosen to fulfil a role. Failure and scapegoat stories are often impersonal in this way. Someone has to be wrong, useless and inadequate so that some other person or persons can feel superior. Not co-operating with such stories does not change them, because they are entirely about the person telling the story. If you aren’t allowed to win, or to change, to be right now and then, or to be good enough, you’ve been snared in a story that exists very much to rob you of power, self respect and status in the community it pertains to.
You may be offered ways out. You may think if you can only get to a certain place, achieve a certain thing, earn enough, do enough… that the story will change. Mostly it won’t. The only answer to such a story, is to refuse to continue as a character in it. Communities and relationships that have this kind of story intrinsic to them, are simply not good places to be, and tend not to change, because the story of it all being someone else’s fault, is such a useful, convenient tale for the teller.
Perhaps the hardest thing of all is to look at the stories and identify that you’ve been finding a thousand and one reasons why it was all someone, and something else to blame. We may well only get this one life, and its remarkable how much of it can be frittered away in working out why the shortcomings of our days are all down to someone else. That story doesn’t allow the teller to change either. It doesn’t allow growth, improvement or hope, just a very empty kind of superiority.