One of the (many) uncomfortable aspects of therapy is the way in which it forces the justification of personal mythologies. Mythologies are the stories we are told, and that we tell ourselves and others, about who we are and how we ought to behave in relation to others in our environment. Sufficiently reinforced, they become our reality.
In therapy, I’m surfacing and interrogating the mythologies that define me. Through the process, I’m learning that I don’t really know who I am. Much of what I believe about myself and my place in the world is informed by my interpretation of what others have expressed about and toward me.
Entire narratives exist in my head concerning the way I do and do not fit into certain groups. One of these mythologies relates to the extreme discomfort and sense of alienation I feel around thin women. Regardless of how I look, I feel out of place. Despite my knowing intellectually that it’s not true, Jerk Brain, aided and abetted by certain cruel people in my past along with my astonishing ability to compare myself to strangers on the Internet, has convinced me that, as a fat-identified person (my actual size being irrelevant to Jerk Brain), I don’t belong and am the subject of ridicule.
Another challenging mythology I’m coming to terms with has to do with the considerable emphasis placed on individual financial performance metrics in the industry in which I work, professional services (e.g., law, management consulting, public accounting). Over time, my definition of success and even my understanding of my own worth as a human being has become inextricably linked with my revenue and billable hours. One of the obstacles I’ve experienced in therapy over the last six weeks has been my reticence to admit that this mythology is hurting me. Jerk Brain tells me that I’m a traitor (to whom exactly is unclear) for questioning this seemingly foundational aspect of my profession. According to Jerk Brain, the only people who chafe up against this scorekeeping system are the ones who can’t hack it, who aren’t good enough. What baffles me is that even when I meet the ever-increasing numerical targets, I still live with a crushing sense of anxiety and failure. The narrative doesn’t change. I’m still not enough. By far, the worst part has been the creeping suspicion that I am the only one who feels this way. But I can’t be, can I?
Having to come to terms with the mythologies I have believed and allowed to define me is difficult. I keep trying to minimize my experiences and feelings, telling myself that none of them are that bad, that if I only tried harder or was a better person, it would all be OK.
In the second edition of their book, Systems Leadership, published in 2018, Macdonald, Burke, and Stewart wrote that there is no way to change existing mythologies. They have to be dismantled and replaced with entirely new ones. It takes time and persistence.
So, that’s what I’m doing in therapy right now, writing my future as an expression of who I want to be, rather than what I believe others (or Jerk Brain) want me to be.