Discover more from Story Garden
The Stories to Which we Cling
And the truths we step on in the process
When I first started sharing pictures of the discoveries I made in my yard and gardens, people wanted to know “why?” They wondered about the circumstances that would compel someone to leave behind so many wonderful treasures—from statues to stepping stones with a young child’s handprints. They came up with stories to satisfy their curiosity. I did too. My imagination came up with all sorts of explanations. It’s comforting. Our minds prefer complete stories to ones that are unfolding before and around us. As a result, we spin storylines to connect the dots around us and color them with pictures. Sometimes, we wear and cling to these threads like much-needed sweaters on a freezing day. They offer a sense of survival. Let’s explore:
School starts in five days. The optimism I once had about the upcoming school year has faded.
At the beginning of summer, I was thinking about, and beginning to emotionally process, how my children got through the pandemic. I was thinking we were coming through it. Now, I realize it was just that phase, or those phases, of the pandemic that we were coming through. Now we are at the threshold of a new one. This phase, frustratingly, seems unnecessary.
Despite my increased frustrations with the unnecessary nature of this phase, this time, my children are doing better. They have friends; They are playing. They’ve met up for bike rides, hung out in the backyard, met up at the park, and even gathered with each other indoors, where, at first, they didn’t wear masks. Then as transmission increased again and new data emerged, the unvaccinated around us re-masked indoors. Now, we all mask up indoors.
At least this time, my children aren’t alone in play. I am not alone in my frustration.
Two weeks ago, I received more calls from past psychotherapy clients than I had at any other point in the pandemic. People close to me reaching new levels of questioning the aspects of their lives that once felt solid, trustworthy, to them. They’re reaching new levels of frustration. As I look around, I’m not the only one questioning things I felt I once knew.
All of this shifting, ungroundedness, and questioning comes at a time when the larger societal structures around us also are changing.
“Do you think everything is changing?” a friend asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
This exchange prompted a conversation about fear-based strategies for dealing with life events beyond the pandemic … with that which may come due to global warming and civil and global unrest. We talked about our children, our torrential feelings, and our desire to protect them.
Later, I recalled that at the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote a blog post around the idea that, “We were made for these times.” I further recalled a discussion with another friend about our shared faith and our children. I shared with her that if we trusted that we were made for these times, we could trust that our children were made for these times as well. Furthermore, they were made for the coming years in ways that we were not.
To that end, we face the dual roles of (1) protecting our children and (2) giving them the freedom to grow in ways that we didn’t. We must protect them from that which is falling apart so they can grow into what is becoming.
We must protect them from that which is falling apart so they can grow into what is becoming.
Unfortunately, we tend to protect our children in the ways that we needed protecting as children. This leads to generational patterns of shutting down aspects of ourselves that are the very remedy to the troubles in the world around us. As a result, we tend to cling to outgrown social structures and prevent progress and growth. Breaking these generational patterns allows for the natural growth and healing of individuals and groups.
Today, many of us are doing the work to break this cycle of protection. And, many of us are still fearful of what would come in its place. It’s been said many times and in many ways that we prefer the dysfunction that we know to the healing that we don’t know. Similarly, we prefer the lies we know to the truth we don’t know: We prefer the lies in our heads to the truth outside of our heads.
We all lie to ourselves.
In some ways, lies are necessary to our survival. As children, we intuit that we need our parents to care for us or we shall perish. That one-down position of dependency inspires a squadron of lies, little and large, to “secure” the relationship. (“I’m not worthy of love.” “I can’t show my feelings.” “Crying is weakness.” “Girls aren’t smart.” Etc.) Secure is in quotes because even insecure relationships are necessary for survival.
Later, some people go to therapy to unbind their minds and souls from the lies they’ve told. Some don’t. Some do it on their own. Others, don’t do either. Rather, when they discover evidence contrary to the lies in their heads and hearts, they reject it, thus securing their original survival relationship. That original relationship, of course, by adulthood, has served as a basis for relationships to self, others, and the world around them.
Why would we cling to the comfort of lies rather than open our eyes to the truth and let it in? Why would we do this when the truth is the light and remedy to the darkness and pain we carry within?
We take in the information that we can hold emotionally. Simple forms of emotional regulation, that are found in the foundational congruence of an infant-caretaker gaze, demand agreement. More advanced forms of emotional regulation that are tested and developed, and received with reliability and consistency over time, make space for incongruence and disagreement. These higher forms of emotional regulation make room for nuance, disparities, the unknown, and discoveries.
When I think of science, that which is known—answers—come to mind. Yet, questions are at the heart of scientific discovery. Questions demand an openness to “not-knowing.”
Not-knowing is vulnerable. Our society doesn’t value vulnerability. Rather, we value “strength".” We prefer to not only have answers but to be “right.” Knowing and being right offer the comfort of complete stories. They are themselves, emotionally regulating.
Knowing and being right offer the comfort of complete stories.
Not-knowing, openness to discovering, and vulnerability require emotional regulation. Parenting our children in ways that are open to discovering and supporting who they are is vulnerable. Breaking the generational patterns of shutting down aspects of ourselves and our children that are the very remedy to the world requires emotional regulation skills. These skills provide boundaries and holding in our vulnerability and openness.
The often subconscious fear of parenting children to become who they require our openness to discovering who they are. It is similar to the fear of openness to seeing—discovering and responding to—what science and data reveal. The backlash to scientific data we are seeing may be related to the child’s survival instinct we have to cling to the lies, the comforting stories we “know,” in the face of a threat to our survival. It may be related to limited emotional regulation skills to hold information that is not congruent to what we “know.” Therefore, rather than responding to new information, many of us are reacting to the threat of letting go of what we know.
Right now, one of those threats is the pandemic. (Truthfully, at this time, there are just so many.) Thus, here we are in this new, yet preventable, phase of the pandemic.
*Note: There are more elements that play into the strong anger in response to data-based recommendations. This is just one. Yet, it is important because it is but one aspect of a much larger problem.