Personal growth

The personal narrative trap

In a wonderful book called ‘The Misleading Mind’, psychotherapist Karuna Cayton uses the principles of Buddhist psychology to explain that the true source of our dilemmas lie in our own minds.  Because we tend to use labels and to see people in certain ways, we are hurt when others act ‘out of character’.  He explains the problem here is not necessarily others at all, but our own expectations – that by relying on our own narrative of others, we fail to see and accept them as they really are.  We also fail to acknowledge that we’re all in a state of constant change- in the process setting ourselves up for constant disappointment.

Could the same apply to ourselves?  Our day to day reality versus the personal narrative we create in our minds?  A personal narrative can be captivating and comforting- but is it true?  Or is it just how we feel we should be?  Does it even matter?


It matters eventually.  A narrative fueled by outside expectations isn’t easy to escape.  Can you think of a time you made a decision based on what others may think, or did what you thought you should be seen to be doing?  The problem lies in the expectations.  Eventually it becomes crystal clear that something is totally out of sync – identity.

It’s not just a case of keeping up appearances either.  It makes sense that anything we spend most of our waking hours doing is going to impact on our general wellbeing.  The same applies for the people with whom we spend those hours.  If they bring us peace, reward or genuine satisfaction, our psychological and physical health will benefit, both directly and indirectly.  If not, it’s only a matter of time before health problems emerge, psychological, physical, or both.  The effects may be direct – for example via long term effects of excess stress on the body such as high blood pressure and blood sugar.  Or they could be indirect – via behavioural coping mechanisms that may include excessive alcohol, smoking or poor food choices.

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after”   

– Henry David Thoreau


If something is out of sync in your daily life, only you can change that.  It may be that just a small change in daily activities is required.  Or it may be something more challenging – a role, a job, a career or even a relationship.  Scary though this may seem, the truth is, there really is no such thing as a right or wrong track.  There’s only the path you carve out for yourself.  Nothing comes from constantly trying to please others and nothing is lost from following your own star.  It’s your path to steer.  There’s no right or wrong time to make a change, only the right time for you.

You don’t need to have your entire future mapped out either.  Just know your values, your needs, and what you have to offer the world.  Any role or relationship that fails to nurture these things, no matter how seemingly important in your narrative, simply isn’t worth trading your peace – and ultimately – your health.


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