The stories we tell ourselves

In the previous post, I talked about reverie, and how limerents tend to rehearse scenes in their minds as a way of feeling connected to LO and trying to prepare for future meetings.

Another aspect of reverie that I didn’t touch on is the fact that we often rehearse imagined scenes to help ourselves make sense of what is happening to us. Imagining different scenarios is one way of incorporating the presence of LO and their effect on us into our “life narrative”. What does it mean, this life-upending drama? How should we be responding?

Terry Pratchett once described humans as “story-telling apes”. It is a critical way that we process information. Rather than trying to respond to every new experience as a unique event, we use familiar stories as quick shortcuts for slotting the new experience into our existing worldview. As an example: if someone cuts in front of us in busy traffic, we tend to make assumptions based on the narrative structures that we use to organise the world.

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Bloody boy racers / Gosh, they must be late for something / Oh, you think you’re soooo important. 

Limerence is no different (apart from in its intensity, perhaps). When the limerent experience overtakes us, we will attempt to interpret it in terms of familiar stories: Seductive Eve, Don Juan, True Love, Happily Ever After.  Stories are an incredibly potent way of organising our thoughts and feelings into an understandable (and memorable) pattern.

So limerent reverie is, in part, driven by an attempt to impose a narrative onto the limerent experience in order to make sense of it. It is also a golden opportunity, because we can shape the narrative.

Seven stories

Everyone has a unique and special life, but talk to authors and you may encounter the slightly cynical view that there are only seven basic plots, populated by archetypal characters. One can quibble the broadness of some of the categories, but the basic message is incredibly powerful. These archetypal stories have been refined over generations by people trying to make sense of the world, and we’ve all inherited this legacy.

Instead of having to figure out a complex world from first principles, we greedily consume stories about archetypal heroes and heroines facing fictional trials, and subconsciously absorb the refined lessons of all the generations before us. It’s very efficient.

The other important implication of this story-based learning is that it works in a way that bypasses our hypercritical conscious minds and instead moves us at the emotional core – that same “deep down” part of ourselves that hungers for limerent reward. Telling ourselves stories is a very effective way to communicate with our limerent brains.

Our self-concept

So how can we use this knowledge to help regulate limerence? A major part of it is deciding on which story we want to be living. Are we living the “star-crossed lovers cruelly thwarted by fate” story, or are we living the “valiant hero resisting the call of the sirens” story? Who we are in the pantheon of archetypal characters? Are we the Innocent, seduced by a Villain? Are we the Mentor, tested by unwelcome desires for the Innocent? Are we the Hero, facing trials as we explore the world? Are we the Victim, trapped by a Monster and battling to free ourselves?

Where we are in our individual hero or heroine’s journey?

Now, to an extent of course this is play-acting. Casting ourselves into epic narratives can feel a little silly and pretentious, given that we are actually living in the modern world, not the age of myth. Part of the reason this may seem a little odd is that modernity has led to a disdain for classical narrative structures. Contemporary literary fiction is more often concerned with existential ennui than grand narratives.

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Oh woe is me! Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so enormously self-centred?

But archetypal stories deal with powerful themes. They offer ways of conceptulising ourselves, and our aspirations, allowing us to reorient ourselves emotionally into a new role that is very satisfying at a deep level. We know how heroines should act. We know what good mentors should do. These are inspiring ideals; noble versions of ourselves worth striving towards. The stories give us a quick and integrated framework for behaviour, once we decide what role we want to play.

Recasting your own play

A good first step in thinking about how these ideas relate to your current experience is to ask yourself: what role am I subconsciously playing? It’s common that limerence can make us unwittingly adopt a bit-part role in LO’s life story, when we should be the lead in our own story. It’s also valuable to think about the larger “plot” of your life. Do you have a meaningful direction? Have you set out on a quest to explore the world and what’s in it, or are you living in stasis, repeating the same routines and waiting for an initiating trigger to start you on your journey? Can you use the limerence experience as the trigger – a call to action?

When reverie beckons in the future, use the power of daydreaming to tell yourself a story of how you would like your life to be. What purpose will you pursue? Who are you?

It may not be easy to answer the question – especially for those who have been putting the needs of others ahead of their own for a long time – but one thing’s for sure: finding an inspiring narrative is a way more powerful motivating force than a sense of obligation. “This is the person I want to be. This is the role I want to play in the drama of my life,” is far more inspiring than “I know I should behave like this, or other people will think badly of me.”


Thanks to Rose for the post idea.

 

8 thoughts on “The stories we tell ourselves

  1. Wow. I don’t know where you get the inspiration for each blog, but thank you.

    I set off to rescue the damsel in distress. Only I could save her. And she wanted me to save her.

    The adventure begins, when we disclose our love for one another, and both have feelings of euphoria. It was beautiful (for each of us, but I’m sure it was not for our SOs!)

    But conflict arises when the enemy keeps showing up. Look out…it’s marriage! And guilt. And honesty. And purposeful living. Then all of a sudden the damsel retreats in an effort to save her marriage, though she still loves the hero.

    But the damsel wants to continue frequent intimate conversation and weekly meals, and a very close friendship. The hero does not know what to do, only that he misses the damsel and is so drawn toward her (absolutely compelled) that he cannot say no to her requests. Our hero’s sanity is tested, and he struggles with all aspects of his life in the meantime. All hope seems lost. But wait, the hero finds a blog, and finds he is not as alone as he thought. He finds some explanations for his “unique” feelings, and sees a long path out of the darkness.

    We were “star-crossed lovers cruelly thwarted by fate”, with our fate being married with families. Will it all end in tragedy, or will it lead to a continued rebirth of our hero? It’s looking promising in recent weeks, but there is still a long journey ahead. He still has pesky thoughts and feelings that are trying to derail him. Will he be able to continue going No Contact and keep his focus on his family and new passions? Tune in next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Awesome reply Thinker and great blog as per Dr L. I think initially I cast myself as the hero, set to save the princess from the terrible clutches of… a more boring job than the one I could give her… Now that’s done, the story has morphed into the Mentor with unwelcome desires, albeit I don’t believe she’s totally innocent. Whatever, the point made is a good one – I need to build my own narrative with me cast in the lead role, and LO either a bit-part or a character from a previous season that isn’t cast this time around.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I took an online archetype test and came out as The Fool each time. My daughter says it nails me.

    When it came down to LOs, it turned out I wasn’t really trying to save them.

    I wanted them to save me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A very thought-provoking post.

    To start with, I couldn’t work out what story archetype my daydreams fell into, then reading on, realised part of the problem is casting myself as a small part in other people’s stories rather than writing my own.

    “It’s also valuable to think about the larger “plot” of your life. Do you have a meaningful direction?”

    This is something I have been trying to work on, but still have a long way to go. The LE helped shake me out of a rut. It pushed me towards leaving my job and completely re-evaluating and working on my marriage.

    I know what career I would love in the future, but practical issues mean it is on the back-burner until the kids are older. In the meantime, a job that is a stepping stone to that career but fits in better with my other responsibilities!

    Your last paragraph completely struck a chord with me – my sense of obligation is strong and sense of self very much lacking at the moment. My awareness of the limerence clouding my judgement is so strong that I don’t want to make any rash decisions, so go with what is probably best for everyone else.

    Like

  4. Another somewhat related concept is that not everybody that comes into your life is meant to stay there, even if you think you want them to.

    I’ve found over time that most people that come into my life come for a reason. Sometimes, it may take years to understand why. All my LEs were somewhat painful but I learned something from all of them. I’d like to think they learned something from me, too. LO #2 told me, “You taught me how to stand up for myself and I’m grateful to you for that.” LO #4 used one of my blogs as a basis for a chapter of her book. I told LO #4 that with respect to the subject, she may be the closest thing to a protege I’ll ever have.

    I influenced them and for a kid who saw himself as Pygmalion, that may be as good as it gets.

    In that context, LO #2 was kind of cosmic placeholder. She kept me occupied while my wife got through college. I learned a lot about relationships from LO #2 but one of the most important lessons was that you often come out of a bad relationship with more baggage than you went in with, you never come out with any less. The stuff I brought into the relationship with LO #2 followed me right into my marriage and LO #2 had absolutely nothing to do with that. LOs are effects, they’re not causes.

    Drifted a little OT….

    Like

    • Still OT but I stick by the saying that people come into your life either for a season, a reason or for life.

      I can count on one hand the number of people who are with me for life, but I wouldn’t change them.

      LO was definitely a reason though – acted as a mirror to my life and a catalyst for change. Also taught me I was more capable than I thought I was. S

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have many memories of my walk home, imagining some exciting romantic opportunity would be waiting for me when I got there, a love letter, a tender email, flowers on the step? Then whenever a LO manifested himself I saw him as being the very catalyst that would transcend my rather (truth be told) interesting life into an extraordinarily fascinating one! And I was so beholden to him for this! Thus the LE begins. As the predictable life cycle of the LE ensues, things don’t progress as I wholly expect them to, I then buy a book on love (I have a small chest of them now), and invariably it always says to just write your own adventure story with you as the protagonist (like the topic of this bog says!), which is exactly what I thought I was doing, and then everything will fall in place, and your soul mate will either convert from being a LO to a real live soul mate, or a new and shiny better fellow will come along, more suited to you than the former. Voila! But sadly, not so easy. Thus far, the books lay there like dormant cicadas in the ground….unable to be of any real benefit despite my (and doubt the authors) hopes.
    According to my friends I am: 1) hard to match, 2) perhaps not willing to have a mediocre romance. 3) A hopeless romantic. Pox on Jane Austen and the rest! Look what they have done to me!
    But thanks to this merry blog, I am no longer in the throes of great limerent agony! That in itself is an unspeakable relief. I am now poised to create some new and astonishing adventures, as a solo adventuress…and shall picture myself as a charming and content one, quite pleased with her current situation of solo flying and total freedom.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think I wanted LO to save me. When I first felt the glimmer life was super stressful. I was worried about work and money and dealing with my parents and making it on my own. I think I wanted LO to swoop in and make it all easy. I wanted him to validate me more than I actually wanted him as a person in my life.

    Looking at it from a narrative perspective, him rejecting me was the “turn” in the story. I had to stop fantasizing about him saving me and actually start saving myself. It’s been hard and slow but I’m doing it. I’m getting a stronger sense of myself and I have direction.

    I know that LO did nothing wrong but i still find myself casting him as the villain. Like, he didn’t love me so I have to show him. I don’t think this is the right way to think but it makes it easier for me.

    I also don’t know how to write the ending of the story. I guess because I’m not there yet. I don’t know if this ends with me finding a better partner. Or if I forgive LO. Or if LO changes his mind. Or if I’m alone forever but more solid and independent.

    Like

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