Are these 10 Self-narratives affecting your Relationships?
Updated: Jul 11, 2022
The first step is to notice them.
Our mind is hard-wired to create narratives.
Whether you know it or not, you and I are walking around each day interpreting the world through various narratives about ourselves and other people.
Just imagine for a day that we had two people who went to the same exact job. They did the same amount of work as each other that day, interacted with their colleagues to the same degree that day, and so on.
Yet, both might interpret their day differently.
For example, one of them might reflect on this day and go:
"I did well today" or
"Meh, it was okay"
On the other hand, the second person, perhaps someone who has a harsher narrative about themselves, might think:
"I didn't do enough. Sigh, I feel useless again".
As you can see, every one of us has different narratives about ourselves. Some are more negative and some more positive, but we use them to make sense of our lives.
They help us to interpret our life as it unfolds, often using our past experience as reference points.
But here's the thing, we also use such narratives to understand our place with other people.
Especially in our closest relationships.
Psychological Theory calls these self-narratives "Schemas".
In other words, they are like cognitive blueprints that have come to form the basis of our expectations, fears and predictions across various events and encounters.
If you're struggling with an intimate relationship with your partner or are having troubles with your friends, most likely, there's a schema playing itself out in the back of your mind.
It's not just for no reason too.
There is a purpose to these schemas beyond making sense of the world - they help us to not get hurt.
They are what has formed out of the outcomes of our experiences since childhood, for example:
What are the things that have hurt us the most as children?
What were some of our needs that went unmet (e.g. love, safety)?
What kind of fears have developed out of these?
All these go on to create various schemas of who we are as a person, and what kind of person we are in our relationships.
And mainly, creating a narrative about ourselves to keep us from getting hurt again.
There is a purpose to these schemas beyond making sense of the world - they help us to not get hurt.
The problem - these narratives tend to be strongly biased to negative side.
Of course they are. In some way, they are our internal alarm system that acts to prevent us from getting hurt.
In that case, would you prefer to have an alarm system that is more prone to over-predicting or under-predicting threats?
I'm sure you can see that there's a problem here though.
If we go about reacting to every single time our schemas raise the alarm, we're going to be walking into tons of conflicts with our friends and partners.
And perhaps, that's what is happening to you now.
So have a look at the following 10 self-stories - see if you can pick out what's at work in your relationships too.
1) The "I cannot be loved" or Defectiveness Schema
If you have this self-story, you have the core belief that something is fundamentally wrong with you, that you are somehow defective, inferior or unloveable.
You have this ongoing story in your mind about how you are broken, unworthy, or flawed.
You feel that no one will love you if they know who you really are deep down as a person.
This self-story might cause you to pull away from relationships, not be able to express your deepest insecurities, or even give up on relationships altogether. This is especially since you think that people won't want to be with you if they "found out the truth" about you.
You might have this ongoing idea that you need to fix yourself before you can truly be happy with someone, or even prematurely leave relationships before they get any deeper too.
2) "People will abandon me" or Abandonment Schema
You have a core belief that others are too unreliable or unstable to consistently be there for you. You feel like you can't really count on others, since people might ultimately leave you.
You believe that people will abandon you or reject you at the smallest of signs. It makes you feel as if your relationships are very fragile, and can end any moment.
This leads you to be very wary about what you do - as any false moves you make can lead to a relationship ending.
Behaviourally, you feel like you are always on the lookout for signs your friends or partners might leave you. It can also cause you to worry when your partner spends times away from you, or if your friends meet up without you.
Since the above is quite painful emotionally, it might lead you to cause an outburst from time to time, lashing out at people and affecting the people around you too.
3) "People can't be trusted" or Mistrust/Abuse Schema.
You have difficulty trusting others, thinking that they will intentionally hurt or damage you. You also have the expectation that others will lie, deceive, or take advantage of you.
You feel like people won't follow through on their promises. You might even often wonder if your partner is deceiving you or fooling you in some way.
Since you fear being manipulated by others, you might set up tests for your partners to prove that they are trustworthy.
However, this tends to backfire as your partner ends up feeling like they've been manipulated by you. They cannot understand why you can't seem to just trust them, and greatly affects the stability of your relationships too.
4) "The people around me are not enough" or Emotional Deprivation Schema
You have an expectation that you will end up feeling disappointed and deprived in your relationships. You believe that others will never be able to satisfy your needs.
You fear that your partner will never be able to provide you with the understanding, attention, attunement, validation, or support that you truly need.
You constantly feel like something is missing from your relationship.
This leads you to often feel lonely and disconnected from your partner, and perhaps, feel an ongoing sense of emptiness in your life.
In the same way, your partner might be affected by your distance too.
5) "I can't settle for good enough" or Unrelenting Standards Schema
This is similar to perfectionism where you don't just think you have to be perfect, but your partner and your relationships have to be perfect too.
It's really hard for you to accept your own or other's shortcomings or limitations.
You tend to set high standards about your partners - and focus on mistakes, flaws and imperfections.
This leads you to feel dissatisfied with your relationships - which come up as criticism or sometimes even feel contempt about your partner too.
More often than not, it leads to arguments with your partner - since whatever they've tried to do never seems to be enough for you.
6) "I don't feel like I belong" or Social Alienation Schema.
You feel like you don’t fit in and don’t belong with anyone. You struggle with a sense of being alone even while together. You often feel unseen and misunderstood.
The core pain that shows up for you is an experience of being different from others and feeling isolated and excluded.
You might frequently feel left out of groups and feel like an outsider.
Even when you are in social situations with your partner or friends, you feel like you are not wanted there or included. You might worry that your partner feels embarrassed or even ashamed about you, and that people might judge you.
Of course, this leads you want to avoid such events if possible - the more isolated you are, the safer you feel. Yet somehow, you can't shake this feeling that you are all alone in the universe.
7) "I feel helpless without someone in my life" or Dependency Schema.
This is the core belief that you are reliant on others and wouldn’t be able to get by alone. You believe that you cannot rely on yourself for your own emotional survival.
In your past relationships, you depended heavily on your partner or friends, and don't feel that you can take care of yourself on your own.
You believe that you need "someone" in your life in order for you to function.
You might have the constant fear that you might make mistakes or wrong decisions without someone's advice. This leads you to depend heavily on the people around you, where sometimes they might feel that you are being needy.
8) "My relationships will fail" or Failure Schema
You have a fear of failing and have a persistent and pervasive belief that you are not good enough, that you’re inadequate, and that you will ultimately disappoint and fail others.
You worry that you will inevitably let people down, and you don’t trust that you can succeed.
The difference between this and the Defectiveness Schema is that you're not so much hiding away your insecurities. Rather, you actively fear that you're not going to meet your partner's expectations.
You constantly feel like a disappointment and don't live up to your partner's standards. You don't think that you'll ever measure up to what they want in a relationship.
This leads you to avoid any challenges that arise in your relationships, since you think you'll simply fail again.
9) "My partner should fulfill my needs first" or Entitlement Schema.
Your core belief is that you deserve to have all your needs and wants met, before you accommodate others.
In some way, you feel that you're in a special situation, that because of what you've been through, you are the priority in your relationships.
You tend to feel trapped in relationships, and frustrated that you need to look after the other person's needs. Sometimes, when your partner expresses their needs, it feels like an inconvenience you need to attend to.
This can sometimes lead you to be critical of your partner. You feel that you should be able to say and do whatever you want.
Many times, you do tend to win the arguments or get your partner to do things your way. Alas, this also results in your partner getting very upset with you.
10) "I don't really know what I want" or Subjugation Schema
In relationships, you tend to place other people's needs above your own in order to maintain relationships. You believe that expressing your feelings and needs in relationships will result in negative consequences such as rejection or punishment.
You experience yourself as helpless, powerless, or trapped in your relationships.
You often feel a sense of pressure or obligation to meet others' needs, as though you are under their control. You have a fear of losing yourself in relationships.
This leads you to act in two ways. One, you surrender to your partner's needs, to avoid the fear that they might retaliate or punish you.
Second, you might sometimes rebel against your partner when you get tired of meeting their needs. It leads your partner to be confused about what you really want.
Want to find out which self-story is most prominent in your relationships? Take a free 10 minutes quiz here.
Just like all self-stories, just remember that they are all products of our early experiences in life. You don't have to carry them forward with you anymore. Hold them lightly. Take care, Hernping.