We are story tellers, almost all of us. The stories we tell, the really good ones, we tell not to others, but to ourselves. It is that simple. We learn to not tell them to others because they tend not to receive them very effectively. Others tend to argue with us about them, tell us that they are not a good reflection of reality or that there is another possibility that we have not considered. So, over time, we learn to keep our mouths shut and firm-up our view about what these stories mean.
The impact of these stories can be powerful, often more powerful than reality; which the stories eventually become.
Most of the migration away from objective reality occurs when we are young and these early experiences lay the foundation for one to more easily accept things that are not reflective of how others see the world.
For example, at school, an example is made out of a good student for speaking out of turn. For one reason or another the teacher decides to single them out for talking to one of their friends while other more rowdy students are also talking. This has the impact of getting the class to be quiet, but it can also create a story based on conflicting evidence within the good student that being consistently bad is an effective way to mitigate the wrath of the teacher. While this small tale seems innocuous, if the young person adapts this as a coping strategy they are well on the way to throwing academic potential out the window.
The stories that young people tell as a result of abuse are often much more damaging. When a caregiver fails to protect a child from abuse or when they do not respond quickly or decisively to it, children often create stories that have them as being less worthy of protection or love, that have them as objects for other peoples enjoyment or have them develop personality disorders that make movement into and through adulthood challenging or obnoxious.
Without proper scope or divergent opinions, abuse can be normalized and carried forward through these stories. Parents who chronically beat their children raise kids who continue this pattern – not because the children necessarily believe it is right but because they don’t know that it isn’t appropriate. Without proper guidance and role-modelling, what is common is normalized and the pattern of abuse continues.
These stories get traction in our minds and they are sticky. It can take years of therapy to identify and loosen a story to the point of it relinquishing its virulent grip. Even then, the stories may have become part of the individuals identity such that they ALWAYS pop-up and will require constant effort to hold back.
The key is a reality check when things start to look or feel off with the young people in your life. Ask lots of questions and provide lots of information about your experience of objective reality. Ask about their stories and listen closely to their answers, there will be a wealth of information contained within them that will light-up parts of their minds that may be destined to become their future reality.