Your Brain Could Be an Unreliable Narrator
I visited my spiritual director a couple of months ago, and she was attempting to help me experience awareness away from my brain. I had no idea what she was talking about, so she walked me through some exercises. First, she wanted me to look at my hand, and then she wanted me to move my awareness down to my hand to “look” at my face from my hand’s perspective.
I smiled at her politely and then pretended to try what she was asking me to do.
I could not get it. The whole time my brain was like, “What? My hand doesn’t have eyes. My thoughts don’t live in my hand. How can I move awareness when all of my awareness is in my brain?”
We talked for a while, and she asked me if I had ever felt something in another place in my body that contradicted what my brain was telling me.
“Of course,” I said, “Mom Gut.”
This is not a reference to my soft belly due to motherhood. The “Mom Gut” is when you are in a situation, dealing with your child, and you have an intense, physical warning sign in your actual stomach that something is off or wrong.
Over the years, I have learned to trust that Mom Gut. If my instincts feel off about a parenting situation, I find a way to address it, because more often than not, if I ignore that feeling, I will regret it later. Despite knowing this, my brain will try to second guess my instinctive feelings all the time.
Everyone just imagine this little play going on inside Kelly’s Body:
Head: The house is really quiet. I wonder where the children are.
Gut: You need to get up and go check on them.
Head: I’m sure it’s fine. You want them to be quiet, right?
Gut: You need to get up and go check on them.
Head: Okay, okay. We will get up and go check on them, but let me finish reading this Instagram post.
Gut: I’m telling you. You need to get up and go check on them.
[Off Stage: Angry yelling followed by a slammed door followed by crying followed by another slammed door. ]
Head: WE NEED TO GO CHECK ON THEM!!!
Gut: *rolls eyes*
End of Play
I’m writing about this weird “awareness-in-my-hand-exercise” (that’s actually genius) because I want to explore an idea with you.
Sometimes your brain is an unreliable narrator.
The brain is amazing and wonderful. It controls your entire body, works the other organs and systems and things (I am very knowledgeable about The Science). However, your brain can also be your absolute worst enemy.
My brain can talk myself into and out of almost anything. My brain will start thought spirals in my head that tell me things about myself that are not true. My brain will compare myself to the other people around me. It’s exhausting.
When I’m in a bad place with my brain, I start looking at friends and family as ENEMIES who dare to live their lives successfully. Everyone has more money than I do, and they seem happier and more successful. Everyone around me has it all together, and I am a loser.
Those ENEMIES are judging me constantly. They see me as less than. They tabulate the calories on my dinner plate. They think my children are uneducated, feral heathens. They think my cooking is too salty, and they wonder why I don’t just go out and get a job and put my kids in a normal school already.
Check it out, loves. Your brain is an unreliable narrator. You can’t trust it. Most people around you are just trying to keep their own crap together. They do not have time to worry about you. They are not ENEMIES.
Do you know that term? Unreliable Narrator? An unreliable narrator is a person telling a story who has no credibility.
When you are reading a novel and the story that the narrator is telling is not matching up with what is actually happening, then you can’t keep trusting that narrator. Some famous examples: The speaker in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” Pi in the Life of Pi, Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games Trilogy. (You also have authors like William Faulkner and Barbara Kingsolver who tell stories from a variety of narrators, proving that no one knows what really happened in the long run.)
I’m here to tell you that your brain is unreliable. If you are in a season of self-doubt and comparison and judgmental thoughts about others around you, you might need a better narrative. You are fighting the Thought Monsters, and you are losing. Finding that better narrative starts with finding a better narrator.
Here are some things that help me:
1. I take care of my body. When I get good sleep, drink lots of water, and cut down on caffeine and sugar, I am better able to navigate my feelings and thoughts. My brain stays in its happy place.
2. I get out of my head. If I spend time exercising or meditating, I can work on silencing or at least quieting my Thought Monsters. Others find physical labor helpful. Something that requires concentration and focus, like carpentry, welding, building, even something like knitting or crochet can force concentration and help defeat those Thought Monsters.
3. I get vulnerable. I experience my most intense battles with the Thought Monsters when I am withdrawing from connection. I have trusted friends and a loving husband (I’m so grateful), and I feel comfortable sharing my most vulnerable thoughts and feelings with them. I just forget to take time to do this, or I allow my Thought Monsters to convince me that sharing won’t actually help. (Newsflash: It totally helps. See? Unreliable Narrator.)
A quick word: You might have friends and family whom you cannot trust. Answer these questions. Can your friends and family honor privacy? Do your friends and family use your vulnerable confessions against you later on down the road? Did sharing your thoughts and vulnerabilities make you feel more connected or more isolated?
If you have friends who tell your secrets, who turn your confessions against you, or who make you feel isolated rather than connected, then you need some new friends. If those people are your family, you are still related to them, and you can still love them, but you don’t have to trust them.
Finally, if the steps I mentioned above aren’t working, I seek professional help. I have been prescribed medication for depression in the past, and I have sought out guidance from a spiritual director in times when my Thought Battles would not cease. These are all healthy ways to take care of yourself.
You are important and worthy to have a good narrator to your life. I want you to listen to the right voices. And, if you need a pal, feel free to reach out to me. Email me or contact me on social media. I’d love to be your friend.