When we are young, we get sold so much garbage from our parents and others in our lives. We absorb these questionable things into our minds, into our psyche, and we then allow those things to run in the background to help us with life’s decisions.
Those untruths build up a narrative. Narratives can make life easier. Hot things are hot, and you shouldn’t touch them or it will burn you. That’s a healthy narrative.
I don’t want to blame my parents for selling me this crap. To be fair, they were sold this crap by THEIR parents, and they never knew better. Hell, my mother doesn’t understand why anyone would talk to a complete stranger about their problems in “therapy.”
All I can say for certain is that the narratives that I was sold ended up truly fucking up my life. With therapy, I have learned new approaches and methods. It requires more brain power to utilize these things, until they become second-nature as part of my internal narrative.
Once more healthy ideas become part of your narrative, then it takes no more brain power or effort than the old garbage that was there before.
Today I’m going to go through THREE types of relationship narratives that are high-level enough that the mess with all of us.
1 of 3: IT IS BETTER TO BE WITH SOMEONE THAN TO BE ALONE
I remember my mother giving me “the talk.” This was after she asked my dad to give me that talk. What he said was so short and useless that it didn’t help me at all.
“Get her pregnant, and I’ll kick your ass.”
Great. Thanks, Dad.
Mom helped with lots of things, like giving me a book set called “The Cycle of Life.” This set has 4 books in it. The neat part is that the end of the 4th book cycles into the beginning of the 1st book, in the same way that life moves.
But not everything that I got was good or useful. Again, this is not to bash or shame her. She didn’t know better, and until now, neither did I.
“One day you’ll meet someone, and then you’ll be happy.”
What’s wrong with this idea, which later became part of my narrative, is that it instilled in my mind [subconsciously] that being with someone is a good thing, and being alone is terrible.
I absorbed this idea into my personal narrative, in spite of the fact that I mostly enjoyed being alone more than being around other people in general.
Ultimately, I ended up owning the idea that I had to have someone else in my life in order to be happy. This might not sound all that bad. But it gets really bad when you end up in a bad relationship, and are considering leaving to save yourself.
It can lead a person who leaves into a state of depression and self-hatred, because they gave up or weren’t interested in working things out, even when things cannot be worked out, and giving up and getting out is the healthier thing to do.
Where things get truly devious is when a spouse says something like, “A man and wife stick together, no matter what,” and then proceeds to be hyper-abusive with their knowledge [or assertion] that YOU are now family, and that makes YOU a fair target for abuse, and you are OBLIGATED to stick around and take the abuse, if you truly love the person dishing it out.
This gets highly dysfunctional VERY quickly.
The healthier place to be is in a mindset where one views themselves as being whole as an individual. From there, a relationship is NOT treated as a “completion,” but rather as an enhancement. It’s a “nice to have” that can either last a lifetime, or until it becomes something that is no longer wanted or needed.
When a split happens, there you will be… a whole person who doesn’t measure their happiness by using their relationship status, or lack thereof, as the standard.
2 of 3: STICK WITH [BIOLOGICAL] FAMILY, NO MATTER WHAT
This one is double-edged. Not only does it suggest that YOU should stick around, no matter what, but that THEY should ALSO stick around, no matter what.
If you don’t stick around because they are unhealthy, then you are instructed by the narrative to feel badly about yourself. And if THEY don’t stick around, for their own reasons, then you are instructed by your narrative to feel badly that they aren’t there.
In both cases, it puts the blame squarely on YOUR shoulders.
I talk to just two family members. As for the rest, it’s a variety of explanations. With some, we just weren’t close or didn’t know each other at all. Others are outright toxic people, and I can’t be around them.
A cousin one scammed me. He’s a Malignant Narcissist who is a pharmaceutical corporation CEO. So, of course he has no human feelings. He never has.
This brought about the end of our relationship, so far as I was concerned. And even though he had wronged me, I still felt badly about cutting ties, because of that family narrative that was running in my background.
I have since built my own family, based on people who care about me as I care about them, and those who want to be around me. Two of them are blood relatives, and the rest are decent people.
We talk on the phone, text, or even email. We don’t have to talk every day, although it’s okay if we have periods where we do, or when we don’t.
This is MY family, which I built. Every day, I hope that I can serve them as well as they serve me. It’s a wonderful thing, and I must NOT feel badly about myself for not allowing those who are destructive into my life.
3 of 3: OLD FRIENDS ARE WORTH KEEPING
I must be clear in that I have old friends who are reading this right now. If you’re an old friend, and we have been talking in RECENT times, then please understand that this is NOT about you.
What this is about is those really old friends, whom I’ve not heard from in years or even decades. I’ll keep them in my heart as friends, and even go so far as to look them up. I did this most recently with a former girlfriend from 1982.
In my mind, they are mostly the same person NOW as they were back THEN. This may or may not be true, as it is als possible that I never really knew them all that well in the first place.
A really good example of this can be found in those college friends. We went to class together, or hung out in the Commons together. Maybe we went to the same house parties. Some were in a band with me.
With many of my college friends from the past, it is true most of the time that I did not really know them all that well. We hung out, but we never had serious discussions where we talked about things that were truly important to us.
I’ve gone more in-depth with co-workers than I did with college friends. And I rarely talk to ANY former co-workers anymore. One former co-worker from the early 90s is probably reading this right now. The rest decided to move on.
The thing is, I should have moved on, too!
Instead of moving on, I romanticized the idea of getting back with them. And getting back together with an old girlfriend from 1982 wasn’t the first time.
I once tried to start up a new band with the singer from my college band. I moved from California to Virginia, after we talked for several months.
When I got there, I found out the hard way that he was a completely different person. Different from who he was back then, and different from who he presented himself as on the phone and in letters.
We did almost nothing music-related, and most of the time he couldn’t be bothered to even say hello to me when he got home from his government job. He was also divorce, which I did not know, and he had a daughter that he’d spend lots of time with, and I also did not know that.
He also suffered panic attacks and other psychological problems that he never told me about. This lie-by-omission was at the crux of what destroyed everything.
This “friend” misled me for reasons that I will never know. Maybe he was feeling nostalgic all the times we talked, but then when it was becoming real he leaned back on his current life, which was by far different from his life in college.
People change. Sometimes is for the better. Other times, not so much.
MORE ABOUT THOSE OLD FRIENDS WHO ARE STILL AROUND
I want to go back to friends from the old days with whom I am still connected, just for a moment, because I feel that this last point can get confusing.
Facebook is where you can find most of these “friends” from the past. In this situation, there are two different ways that a situation or scenario can go.
For example, you could say to them, “We should get on a video chat sometime.” They reply that it would be cool to catch up someday, sometime.
In a SECOND situation, you can say the same thing ,and they reply, “I’m free next week. How about you?
The first scenario is filled with ambiguity. Try to nail them down on a date and time for a video call, and they will do anything and everything they can to weasel their way out of that VERY MINOR obligation.
Is this the behavior of someone who is really, truly your friend? They actually DREAD talking with you!
My old friends who may be reading now come from the late 90s, the early 90s, and even back as far as the high school or grade school days. What these friends have in common [besides all being musicians] is that they actually want to interact with me on some level, in spite of how busy their lives might be.
I enjoy talking with them, and I assume that they enjoy talking with me because we stay in touch on some level.
A WORD ABOUT OLD FRIENDS NOT WORTH KEEPING
Situations with old friends who aren’t worth keeping can be heartbreaking.
There was one old friend; a guy I had met when we were both in grade school. We met back in 1972, when we were 6 years old, during vacation at a lake. His family rented a cottage across the driveway from where we were staying.
We exchanged phone numbers because we had become friends. We had adventures of fishing, rock collecting, swimming, and using a quarter on a string to game a Coke machine.
Because calling each other would be a long-distance call charge, we got to talk once per year. I typically made the phone call, which was one sign of an issue that flew past me until recently. But we talked once per year every summer, until about 1980.
I had his phone number memorized, even though I only dialed it once per year for 7-8 years, and still do. That’s how I found him, because he has such a generic name, akin to a John Smith type situation [that’s not his name, for the record].
Well, I found him on Facebook. He seemed excited enough to hear from me. But we were on Facebook chatting for only a few minutes, when he typed out, “I gotta deal with something, be right back.”
I sat there and waited for him to return for two hours before giving up.
He eventually got back to me, just over one month later. I knew that he wasn’t being tied up with work, as he is retired. We didn’t have any type of philosophy disagreements that might cause trouble.
This experience informed me that he was an old friend who wasn’t worth keeping.
There was another friend from the mid-80s and we made music together in Los Angeles for about a half year. We lived together, worked hard, and suffered at times. We’d sometimes cry ourselves to sleep because we were so hungry.
I found him on Facebook, and it seemed to be cool to get caught up for a while. Then he pulled the line, “We should get together sometime.”
Now, when I say this, I genuinely mean that I would like to get together with you. But I learned the hard way that when other people use that phrase, it’s akin to saying that they don’t ever want to see you again.
So after he said that, I noted that I was available next week. He shut down and ended up blocking me, eve though all I did was try to firm up plans after HE said we should get together sometime.
I called his bluff by picking a time.
I didn’t understand why he did this at first. Then I remembered what split us apart. He went to visit a girlfriend one night in 1987. He got blackout drunk, beat up his girlfriend, and then raped her friend.
When he woke up, he was in jail. The woman he raped was in the hospital with severe injuries. She later turned up pregnant. The judge in his case gave him the option of either joining the military and marrying the woman he raped [which doesn’t sound like a good prize for her], OR he could spend ten years in prison.
He chose the former, joining the military, marrying his victim, and having a daughter. I don’t know if his victim agreed to this in advance, but that situation sounds like it would be a nightmare to her.
All of this hit me in the face when I saw a picture of him with his daughter, the rape baby, on Facebook. After he blocked me, I saw that picture, and then remembered what happened, I realized that he was an old friend who wasn’t worth keeping.
Had he agreed to meet up with me, I might have completely forgotten about that horrible past.
Really, I don’t even know how he can show his face, let alone smile in a photograph.
Those are two examples of friends from the past who aren’t worth keeping. And it doesn’t have to be some kind of nefarious reason, like the friend turned into a drunken violent rapist.
In the first example, he’s a genuinely good guy, which makes this acknowledgement even more difficult. To me, and I’m just guessing, it seems like more of a case of him simply not being interested.
People can be tricky.
IN THE END
Most of us own a narrative that contains some type of information that is toxic, or otherwise just wrong. The toxic components of our narrative can end up driving us down the same path time and time again, only to suffer time and time again.
We can view this as a failure of character, or bad decision making, when the truth is far more nefarious, in that we’re being driven down these toxic paths subconsciously. Later, when things go horribly wrong, we lead ourselves to believe that WE were wrong, we were bad, we were toxic, and that we’re ultimate social failures.
These toxic narrative avatars are things that we can deal with in therapy. For me, it helps me to understand what is going wrong. I can understand why, without getting too upset, and without necessarily having to blame the other person for anything.
Sometimes they just don’t want to go there, and they might not even know why. It’s truly a case-by-case type of thing.
There are truths to understand.
- You don’t need to keep that boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse merely because the alternative of being alone isn’t palatable. If you are afraid of being alone, then I must congratulate you, for you have identified something about yourself that you can work on with a professional.
- You don’t have to keep contact or connection with any biological family members who are causing you harm. As we get older, I believe that it’s important for us to build our own family of people who care about us.
- You don’t have to keep that old friend in your mind and heart. Chances are good that they’re not doing the same with or for you. People change, and not always for the better. In most cases, keeping the old memories of them is far more important than trying to recreate those good old days.
What is important is investigating one’s own personal life narrative. Do you hold any beliefs that were sold to you as a child, that you’d later question if you thought about it? You might not know, but you can find out if you are brave enough.
Dealing with broken narratives or toxic narrative avatars can help you change in a positive way, where you can run on automatic pilot again and trust that the problems that caused you pain in the past won’t be there to do you wrong today, or in the future.
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