Never underestimate the power of storytelling.

Time is relative – so is importance

We are the victims of our self-talk. But are we its sole target?

Call it a silly if you want but it is the question I encountered this week. Normally all dismissive, degrading, good-for-nothing-or-at-least-not-good-enough comments try to devalue myself. Here's the thing: not this time. Instead, I was the victim of EVERYBODY ELSE'S good-for-nothing-ness.

Working on a project, I've been relying on other people’s support/input/feedback, at the very least on their acknowledgement. And that's been the pressure point my self-talk tries to sting.

Phrasing it this way - granting my self-talk a more active role and mischievous behaviour - I get the sudden urge to name my self-talk. We've come this way now. Spontaneous gut feeling for no apparent reason: George. So welcome (or rather not?) my self-talk named George.

Back to George aiming at my pressure points. Here I was, waiting for my project partners, and George was screaming “Nobody cares about it. Am I the only one who takes this seriously and as important as it is?” George, as you may have noticed, is a pro. A blunt accusation, followed by a mere question to tone it down again. Congratulations, my self-talk qualifies as Facebook troll. They grow up so fast.

Of course, this is just a curve ball. Accusing others of not taking it seriously in reality means taking me seriously. And we all know the following chain of why it is my fault they don't and I deserve nothing less and so on... Point for George.

Let's break the chain then, shall we? Time is relative – so is importance. Yes, at this very moment I thought about the project. And I missed and lacked (still at this very moment) feedback from other people. Who are at other places. Doing other things.

Other things as I did 10 minutes ago! I maybe had a snack. Or closed my eyes for a moment. Or scratched my feet that had fallen asleep when buying a few eggs. You might see where I am going: The heart of my complaint – and George's ammunition – was that the exact moment of spacetime I considered it important, I couldn't prove that anyone else did. How terrible. For that one instant having been the only (and last) crossroad in history to change the outcome of the project. The only project. Of everyone out there.

If we unravel George's pleadings and accept the fact that importance is relative, that unproved doesn't equal non-existent, that it isn't even important to telepathically worry at the same time to worry at all... then the attack will miss. George can scream and rant all he wants. And I am simply not going to read this troll post of his. Maybe I'm simply too busy eating cake.

Mirror, mirror on the floor

Do you soliloquize? Most people do, and the rest might just be too distracted to notice.

Do you converse? It would be after all a bit impolite to babble about and then not react to yourself, would it? Your most trusted advisor (cough cough self-talk cough cough) at your disposal!

Do you... argue? And here we are: The bottom of the pit. Smile into a mirror and the mirror smiles back. Smile a fake smile into a mirror and it's up to you and your skill in self-deception to believe it or not. But what about open opposition?

I admit, I am prone to these arguments. Debates of a kind, popping up in my head. And no, I don't talk about debating pros and cons with myself. I talk about debating and reasoning against myself. The transition is not – as one might expect – slow and smooth. There is a clear cut when one half of the conversation becomes silent, imaginative. Imagine me, walking true a forest or sitting on a bench, and I speak words with my mouth while the other part of the conversation is only in my mind.

“Talking to yourself” usually means to speak out loud every word of the play script. But here: I speak “Character 1” while “Character 2” is only heard in my head. This is, when it becomes a debate, when we disagree, when Me becomes a We: two characters with different opinions.

These – for the most part – polite debates take their time. It can go back and forth, both sides well aware in advance what the other one is thinking. Yet there is no simple solution, the two characters not being named shoulder angle and shoulder devil. Is the inner voice my conscience? The rational, clever, human part? Or is it representing my inner fears and thought patterns that need to be overcome?

This week, the inner voice was the impatient one, urging for action. Did I call it to me? Or did it bang the confinement it was in, raising attention and a chance to be heard?

Should I aim at a mutual agreement? Would that even be possible?

Talk to yourself like you would talk to a good friend. I guess that I then also need to listen to myself like I would listen to a good friend.

Who What When – To From Then

As pointed out in my About me post, this project was inspired by the warning “Don't talk to yourself in a way you wouldn't talk to a close friend.”.

It appeared to be obvious where this was pointing: internal Self-talk. And by implication: internal To-Self-Talk. As the warning above states, be wary about the way you talk to yourself. We understood that and analysed it so far. Be a valuable close friend to yourself and treat yourself accordingly. That's still what it this about, isn't it?

The subtle but important difference between obviously and apparently: the direction we started to walk was correct, yet we haven't trodden the path to its end which goes loop after loop after loop in spirals. Talking to yourself means being talked to by yourself and hearing from yourself. (Independent if you listen to yourself or not.)

You are on both ends of the conversation. A monologue.

You probably often disagree. A dialogue.

“Who Am I?: And If So, How Many?” [a book by Richard David Precht, let me state it immediately: I haven't read it]

I feel a lot of snarky questions bubbling up, all eventually leading to cynicism

  • Can you lie to yourself?
  • Can you believe it?
  • Who's to blame in a tango?

Unearthing and understanding this tug of war (if it even is one) requires a closer look at permission and justification, decision and calculation, me and myself.

For now, the next time I talk to myself I am going to focus on listening. To what isn't said. The blanks between the lines. To the truth I wouldn't even tell my closest friend.

Shame on me if I fool me once Shame on me if I fool me twice.

Only a Sith deals in absolutes

By the look of it, my last week included a lot of Sith in my mind. Don't jump to wrong conclusions now! I had plenty of “Good” moments, there was neither bloodshed nor an attempt to take over a galactic senate. But there were absolutes, dominating my mind.

Simply calling myself 'busy' would be such a cliché; a façade blocking all questions as to which emotions blessed or cursed the busy bee. Being 'busy' doesn't imply a certain emotion: After all, one can be gleefully busy or painstakingly busy on the verge of collapse. Some can be both simultaneously without even noticing. Such multitasker.

Then again, a Sith being a cliché, being a façade blocking questions... if not busy – not 'just busy' – how else to describe myself then? I was mentally occupied, absorbed in activities, and not taking the time to reflect. The result was a very narrow view. Two narrow views, actually.

Emotions have a spectrum. So do beliefs. So do the intensities of both. You can see an entire scale. Unless when your view is narrowed. When things get binary. And absolute.

That's no immediate reason to complain about it. My days were 'good' or 'bad', some as alternating as a chess board, balanced without mixture. But my reactions and decision grounded on and grew out of two narrow views. Limiting my interactions with the world. You simply can't roll a four by flipping a coin, can you?

And hindsight now is a handful of work. The narrow view wasn't limited to my situational feeling during the week. My memory of it is equally affected. “How was your week?” is a question I can only answer using my two narrow views unless I have found, taken, and used some time for reflection. For mixing a drink not ordered. Otherwise the result won't ever come close to what it could have been. Combining two drinks from last night in a glass doesn't magically make a little umbrella appear, does it?

Next time, I'll better take the time. I'll better reflect on the situation, I'll beter use the open view. I don't want to limit myself to bringing home the black and the white, combining a grey memory. Next time, I pack into my bag a week in Technicolor.

I'm sad to be sad – recursive emotions

Last week was the emotional equivalent of quick sand. The descent was slow enough to let you enjoy the role of both victim and observer (and in a way, also the role of culprit for jumping into it) and every effort to break free made it worse. Bizarre, fascinating, and cruel.

Ok, we're used to emotions basically from the get-go. The first action of a newborn is to scream, some say we have to blow up our lungs for the first time, others believe us to be hungry, or maybe it is the sudden separation from our mother in combination with bright, sterile light. Whatever it is, this first emotion won't be our last and as pointed out above, we're victims and observers (and way too often culprits) at the same time. So what about the quick sand?

My emotions this week may have felt justified, but they were equally unwanted. And then the brain kicked in / switched off, judging the situation itself using the same emotion: I was sad. And I was sad about being sad. I was angry. And I was angry at myself about being angry. I was annoyed. And I was annoyed at myself about being annoyed.

You see the problem. Recursively spiralling away from the primary source of my emotion (and if present: the justification for it) down the staircase until whatever was going on was my fault, unpleasant, and simply therefore my fault again.

Maybe that's why hate is such a top seller out there. How often do you hear of someone hating themselves for hating? They stick close to their 'justifications' or don't need one to start with.

Anyway, this isn't a blog promoting hate. (Believe me, I'd hate me for it.) So how did I escape the quick sand? Well, I didn't honestly. I accepted the primary emotion for what it was, stopping the spiral... and then I waited. I didn't fight it, I didn't mourn it. I waited. And after a while the sand dried up and I could move on. Figuratively and metaphorically.

It wasn't easy to calm my problem-solving—situation-controlling instincts. Trust the process. You will get out. Give it time. Breathe. Listen to the zen fortune cookie. And try not to get angry or annoyed at yourself for it.

“Whose side are you on?”

This question can feel omnipresent at times. We face decisions every day, moral systems try to present themselves as binary. Then, does it mean that by myself, I am safe from this question?

Earlier this week I received a mail, and packed within it was a compliment: “Thank you for your support. In 25 years, I have not had better guidance for this.” ... ... ... ... ... [ Please imagine a lot more lines here.]

After reading this, I was stunned at first. A feeling I can vividly recall right now when writing this: The blinking cursor waiting for my next words, for a direction of thoughts, for ... ... something. Blinking into the gap.

I could have just stood up, smiled the moment away, turned around and ignored the gap. This time, let's face it. Why was I stunned? Was I even truly “stunned”? And what's the truth underneath? It took me time to unpack it and in its essence: I couldn't reason the compliment away. It was a credible, honest, and unasked for compliment. Freely given. I found no flaw, no misconception. No fight, no flight, just fright. I was: defenceless.

Then whose side am I on? Whose side is my reasoning on? Feeling defenceless because I failed to reason a compliment away.

Not this time. This time, let's face it. Let's embrace the compliment. Let's embrace the fact itself that I can't reason it away. That it is credible. Let's be grateful and proud.

“Who's the protagonist?”

When looking at storytelling and self-love, judgement and motivation go hand in hand. “Why do I do this? Why didn't I do the other thing?” “Not that I like it, but I made a promise...” “BUT WHAT WILL THE NEIGHBOURS SAY???”

And the spiral can go on and on. A few days ago, I had a dinner invitation coming up. It has been planned for a while (it's an annual event actually) and I was truly looking forward to it. Unfortunately though, I woke up in some kind of an energetic down state. A busy and draining week, a bad night's sleep... I guess we all know that.

“Then just stay home, I can go without you.” is what was offered after I opened up to a fellow invitee. To “just” do what I feel like doing. (The word “just” is a definite candidate for its own dissection here in the future. It's a fantastic example of a word being comforting in outside talk and pressuring in internal self-talk.)

“Then just stay home” is the kind of advice I happily – and honestly – give to others. I truly mean it. Take care of yourself, practice mental hygiene, there will be another occasion! After all, it's an (annual!) dinner event, not a funeral. And in general. This was one of the lessons I hoped to stay from Covid times. And my internal self-talk was equally as compassionate and understanding, right? No? Well of course not. I gave myself a hard time. I was defendant, attorney, and judge in personal union.

I am not going into detail now. There's no point to it. And THAT is exactly the point. I wouldn't dare to speak like this to a close friend. Is the correct – and cruel – implication then that I'm not a close friend to myself? ... ... ... [time for the penny to drop] ... ... ... And I forgave myself. I applauded myself for making the understandable and justified decision.

“It was a tough week. And although it would be a great event, you might be even more drained afterwards. Taking care of yourself is the foundation of everything else. If I were in your place (which I am and that's the point) I would. Do. The. Same. Have a good one!”

“And my story goes...”

At the turn of every year, we look back, then we look forward. And we strive to feel something. It could be content, or at least feel like it. Although content has this label of “stagnation” attached to it which society tries to shame away. It could be happiness. Yet then happiness can be taken away, vanish or – perhaps even crueler – slowly dwindle. None of these are as painful as what proceeds them: the fear of loss. It could be eagerness. Now finally we reached the realm of positive emotions directed forward. But eagerness can be incited by a whole pantheon of inner dark spots.

Then... back to bed it is? Or is there something else. Not too big, not too small, not too specific maybe. Rooted in positivity but without force.

“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” [Vaclav Havel]

I got inspired today by a “Love Yourself” lesson and how it needs to start from the way we talk to ourselves. Having a passion for storytelling myself, I decided to investigate the way I tell my story. To myself and to others. And so here we are.

A new Hope – “And my story goes...”

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