To what degree do the stories we tell shape our lives?

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/01/stories.aspx
https://www.scienceandnonduality.com…ting-the-self/
https://www.scienceandnonduality.com…the-big-story/

The field is called narrative psychology and it is about how we as humans use stories to make sense of the bits and bobs of information that circulate about our lives. In the first link the last paragraph mentions how the stories that we tell ourselves can shape our lives and our own experiences. Those who told stories emphasizing a partners negatives are more inclined to remember them as bad, and vice versa. It concludes that stories shape our thoughts and memories, or change how we live life. To that degree I can understand.

The other two start from that point but might make a few leaps and bounds that sound a lot crazy. Referencing how nominalization is one way that we arrest our experience of dynamic events. Though I know the term is in linguistics and refers to taking a verb or adjective and applying a nominalizing suffix to it or leaving it alone to make it a noun. She seems try to extent this to psychology by saying the term also refers to making dynamic processes static, which is doubtful. It goes on to say that suffering is crystalized through labeling them as symptoms, that the narrative of health, psychology, etc takes dynamic emotions and renders them as static things happening to a passive recipient. Even saying that medicine pulls us from the “hidden knowledge” that activates self healing mechanisms (crazy). The last two seem to boarder on defying reality, which I have heavy questions about.

Personally I think there is something to it, especially since we see things like this with constructing otherness. BUt to me it seems more like affecting our perception of things, I don’t think stories or narratives can do more like overwrite physics or such which seems to be what she is getting at. There is a difference between feeling unlimited and being unlimited.

Your second two links are broken - they got truncated with ellipses in the middle of them.

I agree that mindset and stories cannot change physical reality - except for things directly effected by the stories, like the fact you can slander and deceive people with lies and impede your physiology with depression. I couldn’t read the crazy you mentioned (due to the broken links) but it does sound crazy.


These are the links again, sorry they got broken.

Here is something from the end of the first link. Again I am very wary of what is being said but any time someone references “unlimited” I have been told that it is a read flag. It’s a lot of references to consciousness, which already screams a warning. I heard that just because it is weird doesn’t mean it’s a catch all term for things.

It seems very similar to how eastern philosophy says to not identify with the stories that we tell ourselves. So in the end I get the APA saying we are our stories and an old philosophy saying we are not.

It’s certainly the case that people’s narratives guide their thinking. People who believe in ghosts are more likely to see ghosts than people who don’t, because they interpret the things they see in the context of a universe full of ghosts clamoring for attention.

However Donna Thomas seems to be of the opinion that reality is in fact not objective - that way more things we think are absolutes only appear that way because we think they are. Presuming I’m not misunderstanding her anyway. (She uses way more polysyllabic words than she should, and I say that as a guy who uses the word ‘polysyllabic’ unironically.)

Regarding what I understand her position to be, I disagree. There is such a thing as objective reality.
(I know very little about eastern philosophy, and also don’t care about it, so I can’t speak about it similarities or differences with this particular lady’s crazy woo.)

From those links:

I am deafened by alarm bells and blinded by red flags.

Mostly for me it seems that she is basing much of the argument behind stories and such on personal experience. I don’t know much about linguistics and only somewhat of psychology so I cannot confirm or deny but I get the sense in my head that this is crazy.

It was already enough when she tries to extend nominalization beyond linguistics with no evidence to back it up. The rest seems to play off the weirdity of consciousness.

Me too, but Thomas is not the only one to have worked on this. See the work of Elenor Ochs and Lisa Capps. They used intensive discourse analysis of real-life language, recorded of people using it in ordinary situations, (like dinner table conversations of middle-class families in West L.A.–I saw some of the data collected when I was at UCLA.) Their analysis is solid and well-founded.

The fact that Thomas is presenting things like woo doesn’t discount the validity of other researchers. And, in fact, anyone who honestly puts some thought into this knows that every time we tell a story, we frame it according to our own agendas–to one degree or another.

Wasn’t there already a thread here about Thomas, anyway? I suggest reading Ochs and Capps instead.

As a writer I’m well aware that everything we think we know about anything is filtered through various story processes, both formal and informal, conscious and unconscious. That is not controversial in any way, except maybe the fact that writers understood this long before it became a formal subject of academic analysis. (And so did advertisers and marketers.) It’s a fascinating subject, though not in any way new.

It is not, however, improved by woo. Woo only taints. Woo must be pointed out, deprecated, and shunned for any progression of knowledge to occur.

It’s clear to me that telling a better story about yourself can improve your situation. However, to me, a “better” life story is nothing but a more truthful story, told in a kinder tone. A life story full of good fantasies is no better than one full of bad fantasies. It IS the case that many anxious and depressed people tell horrible (untrue) stories about themselves, TO themselves.

Yes, it’s not controversial, but most people don’t realize how they are doing it in even the most mundane situations, and how the process of telling narratives itself–especially interactively in conversation, with various participants–instantiates social roles. When a child, for example, is asked to re-tell about her day at school, (usually before others), that is an entirely different narrative than when she tells it of her own accord. Often the parents are requesting that the child recount a story to demonstrate a part that he or she has played, and the parent–or other family member–may comment upon or evaluate the narrative in such ways as to call attention to that, or to establish other roles (the “clown,” the morally superior one, the victim, etc.). I’m not really even referring to Thomas, who apparently is trying to “enlarge” the process, by saying the content of the stories shapes lives, but more that the act of telling the stories by itself, and how people do that in different ways conversationally, shapes and reinforces identities (within families especially, but also other social structures).

From this perspective, it’s not so important what the narratives are so much as how they are told interactively. That is something that hadn’t been systematically documented before with hard data of people in real-life, ordinary contexts.

I knew about such things already and know that there is a good deal of data to back it up. Especially that the way a story is told can really alter the viewpoint one takes of a character, and there are psychological experiments to back this.

With her though I find that she is trying to get people to “unplug” from our stories and to open up to something beyond it all, that we color events based on this preconditioned filter (skeptical of that). Using words like consciousness or prism as though there is some objective form they are distorting and that the view we have isn’t always relative to some degree. After that it just sounds like words that don’t really make much sense. Reading it over I still don’t quite get what she is saying. TO top it all off I don’t see the “so what” factor to her writing, or rather why we should care. I’m guessing this is based on personal experience which makes it sketchy but then again narrative psychology is based on self reporting.

I really don’t get what it is with people wanting to be unlimited. She doesn’t realize that from birth much of our lives is out of our control. Even if one were to “unplug” there is no guarantee that what you get is unfiltered, but rather that is the assumption being made. You don’t know what you don’t know. Ultimately she crafts an interesting story.

Back on topic I do know that the way stories are told affect my actions and views, but I don’t think they overwrite reality. Even the placebo effect has limits. Rather they mold my experience of things. How I frame something affects my feelings towards it. Though sometimes I can’t help but feel we are all living some kind of story or game.