We all have stories about who we are, where we come from, what we do, what we should be doing and so forth. Some of those stories are more deliberately held than others. ‘Druid’ is a story of aspiration and dedication that I choose to carry, and from that one word I can pull out many threads of history, identity and intention that speak of where I’ve been and where I think I’m going. Beneath the stories we choose and carry deliberately, there can be other stories, less visible to us even as we enact them.
The role we had within our family can give us a narrative that we carry unconsidered because it’s been there all along. Did you get to be the good child or the naughty child? Other people’s expectations shape the options each of us has. Were you spoiled or unwanted, the heroic one, the victim, the scapegoat, the little angel? What ideas about identity were storied into you as a child? It pays to find out what they are because they may not be truth. They may not be about the sort of person you are, or the child you were. Ancestral stories (boys are more valuable than girls, only children are weird, boys aren’t allowed to cry, all girls are princesses whether they like it or not) can be past down and dumped on you.
From the moment of arrival, we’re all trying to work out who we are, how to get what we need, what we can get away with, what the rules are. Mostly no one tells us and we infer the rules of the reality we inhabit from observed behaviour. There’s a lot of scope for this to go wrong, but the earlier you create a story, the harder it is to see it, much less challenge it. If you grew up getting everything you asked for, the idea that you are entitled to whatever you want is going to be hardwired in, and people saying ‘no’ will confuse you at best.
Over the last month or so, I’ve spent a long time in contemplation with my stories, trying to catch the stories that live beneath the visible ones. I carry a lot of anxiety about relating to people and what will be expected of me. I carry a lot of self-hatred, feelings of shame and unworthiness, my lead story in this regard is that I’m an awful person; horrible, unreasonable, excessive and that asking anyone to put up with me is asking a lot.
There’s another, less visible story sat underneath that. It goes ‘it would be preposterous to imagine anyone would care about you.’ The expectation that people dealing with me will not care how I feel, or what I want and need sits under the stories of social anxiety and worthlessness. All that story allows me to do is appease people and hope they won’t resent me too much. It stops me asking for help or for kindness, or saying anything about what I want. Put me last, ignore me, hurt me, mess me around and my response has been to accept it as a perfectly reasonable way to treat me. Why would anyone care enough to do differently?
What happens if I challenge that story? I recognise that I’m married to someone who does care about me. It is possible to care about me, not preposterous as an idea. What happens if I start being clearer about what I need and want? No doubt there will be other people in the future to repeat the old reactions ‘I can’t walk on eggshells, it’s not my fault you’re like this so you can’t expect me to do anything to ease things, you are being passive aggressive, melodramatic, unreasonable, demanding etc.’ But I don’t have to nod and accept those assessments. I can instead consider that these are people to gently keep at arm’s length, because they don’t really care, and I can’t afford that in a person I spend a lot of time with.
The story I carry has helped me to stay put and keep appeasing people who have used me and who manifestly did not care about me, and the scale of that has made it hard to imagine anything else could exist for me. I can now see this doesn’t have to be the case. It’s not inevitable. Other people are available. It is not that I am so appalling that no other sane responses to me are possible, it’s that I’ve dealt with some really unlovely, ungenerous people along the way. I think I can change some of that.
Right now this is a fragile and tentative thought form, a whole life of belief versus a small and tenuous idea. Maybe I do not have to believe the people who have told me I’m not worth their care. Maybe I do not have to hate myself.