Secret Stories and radical change

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.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Secret Stories and radical change

  • Viviane

    Thank you for sharing. I had been searching for the underlying source of my own self hatred, doubts and constant apologising as I try to stop some of my anxiety and work through it finally. You just knocked straight through the wall I had avoided looking at…I still feel unworthy right at the base due to the world and story I adopted as a little kid when it was the only way to pull through and make things work.
    Well done for looking and accepting what you found, even if only enough to write about it to start with (or further already?). I wish you the best with the growing and changing.

    Just today I apologised to my bridesmaid for asking if she could take me to the handfasting venue early. Telling her she could say no and really I just thought and…so many excuses. Friends get frustrated with me apologising all the time but why would I be worth getting up so early for etc.? Having friends as I do now continues to be a marvel but maybe I need to start accepting it as truth and trust that the right ones stay. ’tis going to be hard but needed.

    Time to take that message and figure out how to take the first step in the other direction. Thanks for today.

    • Nimue Brown

      I used to do the apologising all the time thing, too, its still an easy default, and the anxiety underpinning the behaviour is still there… what I’m finding helps is making time to deliberately dwell on evidence that people are ok with me. Stopping to say to myself that something worked, or they seemed pleased to see me, recognising positive feedback – building a new reality is a slow process, but I see it can be done.

  • landisvance

    I think that many of us resonate with your story. I was told by my mother that no one would ever want me. For years the only people that I met were the ones that would abuse me and I was locked into a dance of trying so hard to get their approval. I found that when I came to the realization that I was worth something the universe tilted and I started meeting people who reflected that back to me. A few months ago I cut the cord on the last person from my past who was a taker. She was supposed to be one of my closest friends but I came to realize that every time I needed her to be there for me (as I was for her) she wasn’t. I am now surrounded by people that love me and value me – may you have reached the turning point in your own story.

  • angharadlois

    These stories really resonate with me, too. I am working on not apologising so much – quite tricky, as my first instinct is then to apologise for apologising! There is one lead story that I know well enough to counter: “when people find out what you’re really like, they won’t like you any more.” But what is the invisible story behind that? The one that still makes that false story hurt, in spite of its obvious falseness? Why do I keep apologising, to whom and for what? Lots to ponder here, thank you for raising the questions, and for having the bravery to share your own journey into story. May your way be blessed.

    • Nimue Brown

      I’ve had people tell me that one – that the people who like me only do because they do not know what I’m really like, and that is one of the most fear-inducing things for me, that this could be true. I know where it came from, but that doesn’t seem to help. It assumes there’s something to see that you can’t see and sort out, but someone else can see and judge, there’s a loss of power in that mix, a loss of insight, a having power taken from you, one way or another.

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