Love Letter #3 - Let go of stories that don’t serve you.
As a keeper of journals, I sometimes go back and skim the monologues of my recent-past self. What I find at turns delights me (I was so worried about that and now look how it all turned out!), bores me (Good God, how many times can you say “he’s so great”?), and makes me want to burn the whole journal out of embarrassment. So many pages are crowded with observations and theories that, at the time, I thought were so wise, narratives that seemed to explain situations, people, pain. Now they just strike me as defensive and small. Here are a few that I’m ready to let go.
“This can’t last”
There is a difference between being in touch with the temporality of things and reveling in it. We get it. All things come to an end. We all meet the same fate and leave this world like we entered it blah blah blah. But allowing this fact to rob you of joy is really just a way to check out of feeling something other than the shame and sadness we’ve all cultivated comfortable brain patterns around.
I noticed that when things were going well, I felt the need to puncture the good feeling with “rational” thoughts like something bad is bound to happen and my luck will run out. I have pages dedicated to all the ways this particular joy will end. Call it negative rumination. Call it performative pessimism. Call it Debbie Downer-ing my own life. I’m letting go of anticipating the worst in order to be right.
“They are just ______”
What begins as a healthy does this person have my best intentions at heart/are they being honest/etc quickly becomes a game of personality Clue in which I try desperately to figure out the motive and means of someone before they hurt me. (Listen, my intuitiveness can easily be highjacked by anxiety and defensiveness. We’re all riding our own horses, ok?)
Having someone figured out meant that I could opt out of continuing to be open, move into a defensive formation, and start searching for confirmation of my assessment. If I was afraid a new boyfriend would break my heart, I’d dismiss him as a fuckboi and look for ways he wasn’t worth it or ways he was already pulling away. If a friend’s success made me insecure, I’d categorize her as full of themselves and find ways they acted too good for my company. This analysis was separate from reality (the bf is great, the friend loves me, etc), but this stance of having “figured them out” was an easy way to protect myself from imagined future hurt by keeping them at a distance.
(Side note: this has worked both ways. I’ve brushed off red flags from people because I was so wrapped up in successfully navigating their toxic behaviors. I had them figured out: they didn’t actually intend any harm when they were mean, they were just immature, obviously. )
“All my emotions are interconnected and require a narrative.”
My first round of therapy left me with a few overarching narratives that helped me understand my behavior. One of them was something like, “I didn’t get enough approval from my parents therefore I seek it from others in my adult life.” For a time, this narrative seems to explain everything about me.
Why am I so upset about that joke my coworker made? Oh, it’s because I’m seeking the approval I didn’t get from my parents.
Why did I snap at my friend? Probably because I’m seeking her approval and she’s not giving it to me.
Why did that tv show make me cry? Well, you know, I’m continually seeking the approval I didn’t feel as a child. (Ok, in the case of Parenthood this actually ~always~ tracks.)
But not every passing feeling belongs in the narrative. Some emotions are just because we’re tired or hungry or emotional, not just because we’re triggered by some deep emotional thread. Hear me out: knowing the nature of your original wounds is very key to self-love. And feeling your feelings is incredibly important. Stuffing them down only makes them fester. But feeling them and thinking about them are two very different things.
Analyzing every single emotion is like trying to measure every single wave that comes in to shore. My job isn’t to know the height, speed, and density of each wave. It might be to pay attention enough to know when hurricanes or tsunamis are happening. But really my job simply to swim.
My journals tell me that I used to think all of these stories were incredibly wise. They seem sad and small now, as I’m sure the journal entry I wrote this morning will feel in a few months. But by then, I’ll be a little different, a little stronger, a little wiser.
I hope you’re letting go of the stories that don’t serve you.