Who is the Unreliable Narrator?
The unreliable narrator. What does he do? He constantly makes you remember your past failures, makes you feel unworthy, he makes it hard being in the present moment because with him you experience feelings of low self esteem, low self confidence, self respect and self compassion. Basically, he makes you be in a constant state of chronic self doubt in your day to day life, and because of that, you feel incompetent.
This takes a toll on our emotional well being in everyday life. It makes it hard to spend time with ourselves and our family members, to overcome self doubt, accept positive feedback from your good friend, challenge negative beliefs about your achieved success and be judgment-free of your own thoughts.
If any of this rings true to you, you're not alone. Read Lindsey's story about her self esteem issues created by her own Unreliable Narrator, and how did she spend time with him in the present moment, in order to cultivate her own sense of self, self control and ultimately - self care.
The low self worth, critical inner voice that lives in my head rent-free
There is a trope in storytelling called the "Unreliable narrator". You might remember Nick and Amy in Gone Girl, Briony in Atonement or my own favourite Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects.
Writers use a first person narrator to help us see the world through the eyes of someone else. As an audience we try to suspend our own beliefs to help us trust our narrator, and step in to their subjectivity knowing that they have a certain perspective or view. And then as you follow their voice, the unreliable narrator will, either in a moment or across time, show their prejudice and bias. In doing so, as an audience, we begin to make sense as to why they are telling their story - what skin they have in the game for making you believe them.
Problematic ways of the Unrealiable Narrator
I have my very own unreliable narrator. The thoughts in my head that I have when I'm trying to make sense of the world. I've heard it called a Lizard Brain, an Inner Critic and an Inner Protector. All of them have similarities though, which is, you aren't your thoughts.
What kind of things does my narrator say? It tells me that I have to absolutely try my best in all circumstances by telling me the only way to succeed and stay motivated is aim for absolute excellence rather than to do a "good enough job". Or something that has kept me in several toxic situations - you have to stick with something right to the end otherwise you can't say you tried. And another one that holds me to account - I must fix this situation because otherwise it will always be broken. My narrator is domineering and demanding. They use words such as "the only way", "have to", never, always, must shutting out all other options. It tells me not to trust my feelings or emotions, ideas or intuition when they have all the answers. They are not a great person to hang around with. All the time. 24 hours a day.
Interrupting thought patterns and negative thoughts
My experience of coming to terms with having an unreliable narrator has been slow and hard - so no "ah-ha" plot twist moment I love so much in movies. At first, I was pretty sure I could get this sorted in a short time. Just ignore this narrator, I didn't like them and I just needed to find myself a "better" narrator. I would replace them with "new" thoughts - maybe a few self help books and affirmations would sort me out. When this didn't work, I spent many years battling the narrator, cross at them and myself for not being able to "get over this" but I also lost even more trust in myself.
Accepting your inner critic and growing your self worth
Over the last few years, through professional advice of a trained therapist and coaching I have begun to accept my narrator but not to accept all of their stories. I now believe they are trying to give me advice to keep me safe from being judged and overwhelmed. I see my role in our relationship isn't to either accept or squash their version of reality but to see their comments as a story. And like any good audience member, be curious about their motivations and compassionate for where they may be coming from. And in doing so, I've realised that my unreliable narrator isn't the narrator making decisions about what I see, hear and do but an interesting and deep character with a voice to add to my story.
It's obvious how your inner critic can have negative effects on your overall well being, make you feel like you don't matter and infiltrate imposter syndrome in a person's life.
How to take care of your self doubt and mental health?
However, one or more aspects to "becoming friends" with your own Unreliable Narrator is cultivating a sense of self, choosing to step in the challenging situations and stop comparing yourself to others - including listening to everything that your Inner Critic says.
In other words, in order to cultivate healthy self esteem, have healthy relationships, alleviate feelings of low self worth and be someone who makes mistakes without judging yourself means to challenge problematic ways of negative thought patterns, learn to accept your good qualities, learn methods on reducing the negative impact of your inner critic and seeing a mental health professional if that's available to you.
And just like Lindsey, make your Unreliable Narrator your best friend - and see it as someone with little control, but that helps you to achieve success in new or challenging situations, with you having self control and leaving the experience feeling worthy. It's your own, quiet revolution within.
What to do next?
Read this article on Kaizen, a gentle philosophy of making continuous improvements using small steps (much smaller than you think), asking small questions, and letting your subconscious bring you the answer. It's much easier to start addressing this problem by looking for small ways to improve what you already have or are.
See if there are any stories that you need to let go of that aren't serving, or supporting you, and become aware of what language are you using when speaking to yourself.