"Perhaps the most important revelation is precisely this: that the left cerebral hemisphere of humans is prone to fabricating verbal narratives that do not necessarily accord with the truth."We all have a story we tell ourselves. Our story might change over the years or it might not. We might be aware of the story or, often the case, we might not have a clue. Most of us go through life with no awareness that our perception is a construct, a story we make up as we go along, editing out things that don't fit with our overall narrative, misreading others' behaviour or otherwise fictionalizing our story.
~Antonio Damasio, neuroscientist
My story was this: My parents drink too much and don't care about me enough to stop. If anyone finds out about my parents, I'll be rejected. I am not as good as other people. My family is to be hidden. My pain is to be hidden.
I lived that story for many, many years – well into adulthood. I hid behind a smile and a caustic wit. I dressed the part, all the while feeling a total fraud about to be exposed at any moment.
No matter that, as time went on, there was plenty of evidence that it wasn't true. I was doing well in my career. I had many friends.
By the time I met my husband, I was rewriting my story. Thanks to therapy, I'd come to terms with my parents' drinking and my messed up childhood. I had forgiven myself for being...myself. I'd learned to challenge my story with one question that changed everything:
Is it true?Is it true? is a question that pulls our stories from the shadows of our minds and, like an interrogation by the KGB, shines a cold light on them and asks them to 'fess up.
And it's a crucial question to ask in the wake of betrayal when what we're telling ourselves – and sometimes what we're being told by a delusional cheating spouse – is total fiction.
When I first figure out that my husband was cheating, I immediately reverted to my long-held story about my own inadequacy. I wasn't beautiful enough. I wasn't sexy enough. I wasn't interesting enough. No matter that the OW was none of those things, I remained convinced that it was my own failings that led to his cheating.
Challenging those things was the healthiest thing I could have done. Is it true that he cheated because I wasn't beautiful enough? Or sexy enough? Or fill-in-the-blank-enough? Well...
I learned all I could about affairs. About why people stray, why they lie, why they risk their marriages – marriages that many of them actually cherish. And I learned that affairs rarely have anything to do with trying to trade up, particularly affairs in which the cheating partner has no intention of leaving his wife. Instead, I learned that affairs are about escape. They're about avoiding uncomfortable feelings about one's own failings. In other words, he doesn't cheat because of what's wrong with you, he cheats because of what's wrong with him.
But too many of us stay locked in our story about affairs, urged on by a culture that still thinks men cheat because wives are frigid, or fat, or too busy with the children, or too focussed on our careers. We blame ourselves when the blame belongs squarely on the shoulders of the cheater.
Take a close look at what story you're telling yourself. Listen closely because our stories are whispers more often than shouts. Pay attention and challenge what you're telling yourself with one question:
Is it true?