Strange enough, we are works of fiction.
When we live, work and worship with other people, we have the opportunity to create a shared reality.
We do this by bringing our own narratives to the table where we create a third narrative—the shared story of the relationship. Participating in a relationship—in a family, at work, with a church member, with a confidant–takes time, energy and cooperation. It’s an act of negotiation. An act of compromise. A co-creation.
But we don’t always find a way to comfortably share a reality.
Even though I’ve been married for 19 years, my husband and I often have very different narratives. But more often than not, we have a shared reality that allows us to work together.
When I meet someone new, I don’t have very much of a shared reality. When I interact with someone with very different values, very different communication styles, and very different goals—we don’t have very much of a shared reality.
Let me be more specific.
I had the horrifying experience a couple of months ago of learning that several people at church “find me annoying.” They don’t want me in their homes or near them at church activities. They want me to remake myself. Now.
I’m not asking for pity by writing about this, and I do NOT want input about other people. I can only change me–presumably, hopefully. Focusing on the source of the criticism is a total waste of energy. I already moved through a lot of emotions, and I don’t want to go back to raw emotion. I’m trying to analyze and create a program for self-improvement.
I will concede the point: OK. I am annoying. But how can I fix this?
I see the problem as potentially existing in three places:
- I sin. I am human, and I sometimes do bad things. All of my sins tend to all fall into the “I should not have said that” category. If I insult, criticize, or judge people, I need to repent. This is annoying. I need to tell people that I am sorry, and I need to cease from doing these things ever again. I am seeking the transformative powers of the atonement.
- I mismanage my mood disorder. I have GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). I realize that I throw off a lot of nervous energy. People around me can sense my anxiety, and it increases their level of anxiety. This is annoying. I will try harder to manage my anxiety so that other people can’t sense it. (I could write an entire post on having GAD is like a part-time job that needs about 4 hours of self-care a day, but I won’t take the space to do that today.)
- I do not rein in my extreme personality traits. I have been extremely extroverted for most of my adult life. (Interestingly enough I was introverted as a child.) I can also be very controlling. On the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, I usually test as an ENFJ, “The Teacher.” But I can come off as an ENTJ, which is called “The Commander.” Commanding a social situation is effective in some settings, but I don’t think many people want General Patton as a friend. This is annoying. I can do better to stifle myself by being less extroverted and by being more flexible. Lately, I have been trying to adopt more behaviors of the INFP, “The Poet” in order to be less annoying to others. This was my grade school personality, so I’m going back to those days of spending a lot of time alone reading, writing, meditating, and interacting with people primarily one on one.
So strange is the truth others forge around us. So strange is our truth when offered to others. And when competing narratives clash, it can be chaotic, awkward, painful, or contentious.
How can I make changes to these three categories (sin, mood disorder, personality) to revise or edit my character for a better shared story? To be honest, sometimes these categories blur–which makes it more difficult to decide how to address the problem. Also, Is there a fourth or fifth category I am not seeing?
Right now, I’m in a writer’s workshop of sorts: “Under Construction.” I’m opting out of a lot of social situations. Until I can remake myself (or work to have God remake me), being absent is the fail-safe way to be less annoying.
[Photo Credit: Katheryn via Creative Commons.]
How do you respond when the narratives you are running clash with the narratives of others around you?