When We Lose the Plot, Fall Apart: Narrative Failure

Uploaded 2/6/2022, approx. 23 minute read

It is bad enough that I am using ten dollar words with a minimum of nine syllables. That in itself is a sadistic act. But to call you names in Hebrew without clarifying the meaning of these words, that's truly out there, off the charts.

So here I am, to explicate to you what I have been saying for years. Shoshanim means roses. Shvanpanim means small rabbits, tiny rabbits. Shvavim means naughty. Chmadmadim means cutipies.

And now you know as much Hebrew as I do. We can hopefully proceed into the topic of today's lecture. And this topic is narratives.

Later on I'm going to use two examples, virtual signaling and victimhood movements and depression in borderline personality disorder. Also mistakenly known as shy or quiet borderline, another nonsense internet trope.

Okay, I'm going to discuss these issues a bit later. But to get to these issues, we first need to tackle a few concepts.

And I'm going to do my best to make your life as difficult as possible. And finally to force you to make use of that antiquated invention, the dictionary. Don't you just like me, love me and adore me.

Okay, Shoshanim, remember roses.

Now we start. Stay with me for the next episode.

Life reality throws at us all kinds of curve balls. We are flooded with information. And we process less than 5% of the information that we receive every second in and out. 95% are relegated to the unconscious or ignored altogether. And even this 5% is a tsunami. We are overwhelmed and flooded and very often on the verge of dysregulation. And that's a typical day to day pedestrian mundane reality.

When we are faced with a crisis or a trauma, very often we dissociate, we cut off the information, we denied, we repress it, we ignore it. There are gaps in our memory. And these gaps create discontinuities, which affect our identity. It creates identity disturbance.

So to try to cope with this avalanche of data, we construct or we adopt narratives. Sometimes we invent our own narratives, sort of we create theories of how the minds of other people work. These are known as theories of mind. What makes other people tick. And we create theories of the world, of reality. It's also known as the internal working model. It's a model that incorporates us, the world and other people in a kind of mega hypothesis or theory.

So we constantly construct theories about everything all the time. But sometimes we just adopt other people's theories. We adopt narratives, a political ideology, a religion, science, a story of some kind. So we construct or adopt narratives.

One of the major reasons we adhere to celebrities and follow them is because celebrities provide us with instant narratives, which are recognizable and are applicable to our lives.

So to make sense of ourselves, to make sense of others and of the world at large, we need narratives. Narratives imbue everything with meaning. And so we defend these narratives tenaciously. And this is called resistance. Resistances are intended to cement and defend a narrative because the narrative provides us with meaning, with structure.

We say that a narrative is an organizing principle. It organizes reality in a recognizable way, in a familiar way. It renders everything familiar.

But it's also a hermeneutic principle, an explanatory interpretative principle. So the narrative not only structures everything, introduces order into chaos, but it also makes sense of everything. It gives meaning to our lives and to the way our lives are integrated within bigger frameworks.

So science, political or professional affiliation, religion, on a collective level, we have these narratives.

And sometimes rather than invent our own narrative, we simply adopt these narratives and internalize them. This is a process known as internalization.

Once we had internalized the narrative, we usually identify with the narrative. We become the narrative. A Trump supporter becomes defined by his support for Donald Trump. That's a form of identity. And that's why we call it identity politics.

Narratives fuse together to create an identity. And the identity provides the individual with direction and with goals and make sense of the world, make sense of others, and so on and so forth.

And such individuals and such collective narratives are actually kind of resistances writ large. They keep the world out.

And in a way, you could conceive of narratives as extended boundaries or very firm or enhanced boundaries. And so we'll come in a minute to the functions of additional functions of narratives.

But it's important to understand that there isn't a person alive who is devoid of a narrative. We all have narratives and narratives can be rigid, ideological narratives, or they can be open ended, mutable, flexible, changeable narratives.

Rigid narratives give a few hallmarks. They are ritualistic. Rigid narratives tell you what to do at every given moment of the day. They are prescriptive. They are proscriptive as well.

In other words, they tell you what you should do, what you should be doing, which is prescriptive. They give you a prescription, but they also tell you what you should never do, what is unacceptable to do under the narrative, socially unacceptable, religiously unacceptable, scientifically unacceptable.

So, they are also proscriptive. They provide proscription. Rigid narratives are immutable. They never change. They are counterfactual. They usually defy evidence and reality and the facts.

And this is exactly their source of strength because they had, because rigid narratives never change. They are old, they're ancient, and they have this hallow of authority because they've been around forever. And because they are counterfactual, they cater to prejudices, superstitions, fears. In other words, they are emotional.

Rigid narratives constitute a part of the adherence identity. A very famous rigid narrative is of course religion. That's one example of a rigid narrative.

Now, narratives have three components.

The first one is attitude. The second one is beliefs. And the third one is behavior.

So, a narrative would generally have a component of attitudes. What is your attitude? What would you like to do? What are your desires and urges, wishes, dreams, fantasies? That's the attitudinal part.

And then you have the belief part, axiological part, values, values, beliefs, and how these values and beliefs integrate together to create conviction, moral conviction, or some other type of conviction, historical conviction.

For example, political movements, which are narratives, endow their proponents with historical conviction.

But the belief part, the axiological part, the value part, the values part of the narrative always creates conviction and commitment.

And this leads to the third part. The third part is behavior.

Behavior could be in the form of speech acts or in the form of action, actual action.

Okay, healthy, normal people can and do hold several narratives at the same time, simultaneously. But they hold these narratives separated from each other, compartmentalized. And so they hold these narratives simultaneously.

And what they do, healthy, normal people, what they do, they deploy the narrative, they deploy the relevant narrative to each set of circumstances. As circumstances change, the narratives they use change.

And this is called narrative fluidity. Healthy, normal people deploy narratives circumstantially, reactively. We will come to that a bit later when we discuss or when we try to unite the concept of narrative with the concept of self-states.

But this is what healthy people do.

So a healthy person could have a rigid narrative when he goes to church, and then a very, very flexible, transigent narrative when he conducts business. And a semi-rigid and semi-flexible narrative when he monitors his children's behavior online, especially sexual behavior.

So various narratives in healthy people's lives play a part.

These healthy people do not resist when there's information that is countervailing. They hold a group of narratives, a narrative space, a narrative set, and very often reality challenges or undermines one or more of these narratives.

And you have to cope with the onslaught of countervailing, contradicting, challenging, undermining, obstructing critical information.

And so healthy people don't resist the information. They don't block it. They don't block it. They don't deny it. They don't repress it. They're open-minded. They review the information and they try to incorporate it into an existing narrative, one of many in their arsenal. And if they fail completely, they create a new narrative or adopt a new narrative.

In other words, they don't have what we call a confirmation bias.

Healthy people modify their narratives to respond adequately to their environment.

And in this sense, the narratives of healthy people, of normal people, they are adaptive. They're adaptive because they adopt all the time as reality mutates all the time and transmutes all the time, but not so mentally ill people.

When there are mental health problems present, when there are mental health disorders and mental illness, the picture with regards to narratives changes dramatically. With mentally problematic people, people with mental health issues, they have only one narrative, not a multiplicity of narratives. They don't have multiple narratives. They have only one narrative at a time. The narrative can change from time to time, but it will be only one narrative at any given time. This narrative is active.

And what they do, they take the narrative, mentally unhealthy people, they take the narrative and they render it rigid and constricting. They transform the narrative, they rigidify the narrative. And this rigidification, rendering the narrative rigid helps them to regain sense of safety, security. In other words, it ameliorates their anxiety.

The main reason to rigidify a narrative, to make it rigid, constricted, fixed, is in order to reduce anxiety.

And the whole process is called anxiolytic rigidification.

But to remind you, a rigid narrative has a few dimensions, a few aspects, a few attributes.

The rigid narrative provides rituals, is ritualistic. And this is very anxiety-reducing.

Because if you know what you're going to do every minute of the day, and you have a routine that repeats itself every day, for example praying five times a day in Islam, if you have this ritual, this routine, this repetitiveness, it creates predictability. It fosters familiarity. It creates, in other words, a comfort zone.

The rigidity, the rigid narrative through rituals reduces anxiety by restoring a sense of familiarity and predictability. The rigid narrative also tells you what to do, it's prescriptive, and what not to do, it's proscriptive.

So you don't need to think, you don't, will you bear no responsibility for your actions, or for the consequences of your actions?

Because a narrative tells you what to do. It's a narrative which is responsible, not you.

And so this reduces anxiety in mentally ill people. Mentally ill people don't trust themselves to do the right thing, and for good reasons. So they need someone to tell them what to do.

And a rigid narrative does exactly that. And even more importantly, a rigid narrative tells them what never to do, what to never do, what they should never ever engage in, what they should not embark upon.

So it's very, it creates a very safe atmosphere, very safe environment. And rigid narratives never change. They're immutable.

And so the mentally ill person can feel certain that he will wake up tomorrow morning, and the narrative will be the same. And the morning after the narrative will again be the same. That's the only stable point in the mentally ill person's life.

The life of the mentally ill person is turbulent, tumultuous. It's full of this dysregulation and lability. It's unpredictable. It's crazy making.

And here comes the rigid narrative and provides a pivot, an axis, an island of stability.

And the fact that the rigid narrative is often counterfactual defies evidence and reality and facts is in favor of the mentally ill person because the mentally ill person has an impaired reality testing.

The rigid narrative legitimizes the mentally ill person's misconception of reality.

The rigid narrative tells the unhealthy, the mentally unhealthy person, the person with psychological problems, the rigid narrative says nothing's wrong with you. Nothing's wrong with you. You're right. Reality is not like that.

So rigid narratives have enormous advantages when it comes to people with mental health issues.

And the main advantage is that it reduces anxiety in a variety of ways.

But still reality is there. The rigid narrative doesn't get rid of reality. There's no way to do that.

The onslaught of reality keeps knocking on the rigid narratives doors, keeps besieging the rigid narrative.

Reality is like an invading force which besieges the fortress of the rigid narrative and catapults and bulwarks and everything is, the reality is constantly trying to undermine the foundations of the rigid narrative so that it falls to pieces and falls apart.

The mentally unhealthy person realizes that this is happening, is aware of this process and finally is forced to give up every narrative and any narrative.

So the process is adoption of a narrative or invention of a narrative, rigidification of the narrative, making it, rendering it rigid and constrictive in order to reduce anxiety.

Then continuing conflict with reality which generates internal dissonance and then to get rid of the dissonance because the dissonance enhances anxiety.

Ironically the rigid narrative starts by reducing anxiety but then enhances anxiety because it conflicts with reality.

So we have narrative failure. Narrative failure is when the rigid narrative starts to increase anxiety rather than decrease anxiety because it conflicts with reality. It creates an existential crisis, lack of meaning so profound that it often results in suicidal ideation.

There are two phases with a rigid narrative.

The first phase is it reduces anxiety and makes the mentally ill person feel good. The mentally ill person feels safe and certain, environment is predictable and familiar, is within his comfort zone and then reality comes knocking and the very fact that the narrative cannot be modified is not flexible, cannot accommodate reality or countervailing information, renders the rigid narrative a threat which begins to enhance anxiety.

There's a dissonance there. There's a gap between reality and the rigid narrative so it begins to enhance anxiety and the mentally unhealthy person has to get rid of the narrative in order to get rid of a dissonance in order to reduce anxiety.

The minute he gets rid of the narrative we have a narrative failure and an existential crisis because at that stage there's no alternative to the narrative.

So instead of narrative fluidity, mental health pathologies lead to a fragmentation of the self into self states.

Allow me to explain this.

It's a very important concept. It's a very important concept because what I'm trying to say in so many words is that the generation of the creation of self states in mental illnesses, in mental health disorders, in personality disorders, these people generate self states because they are unable to use narratives to regulate themselves and to make sense of the world and of other people.

I'm going to repeat this for two reasons.

First of all, I love the sound of my voice and second reason is it's a seriously complex concept. Even I am having difficulties understanding what the hell am I saying? But that's not new, is it?

All right, Schwanpanin, you've had enough fun at my expense. Let us proceed.

Here's the thing. Mentally, mentally unhealthy people, pathologized, people with mental health pathologies, mental health issues, they are unable to maintain a multiplicity of narratives for various occasions, contexts and circumstances.

A healthy person has six narratives and he chooses a narrative, he chooses a narrative, a fitting narrative. He chooses a narrative according to the environment he's in. When he goes to church, a healthy person will adopt the rigid narrative of religion. When he does business, his narrative will be a lot more flexible, also morally and ethically. When he's with the children, he will have another narrative. So he has a solution for every situation, every context and every set of circumstances. He has a narrative for each and every one of them.

That's a healthy, normal person. The mentally disordered person, the person with mental health problems, has only one narrative. But exactly like the healthy person, he's faced with multiple environments, multiple contexts, multiple people, numerous circumstances which are in exigencies and developments which are outside his control.

What to do? He has only one narrative and that narrative is rigid, constrictive, inflexible, prescriptive, proscriptive. In other words, this single narrative cannot possibly cope with a variety of situations, cannot possibly accommodate reality. So it breaks down.

And when it breaks down, there is a narrative void. This is the narrative failure. There's a void, an existential void. Anxiety skyrockets to the stratosphere.

What to do?

So the solution in case of mental illness is not to have multiple narratives for a single self, but to have multiple selves, each with its own narrative.

Let me summarize it for you. The healthy person has multiple narratives with a single self. The unhealthy person, the mentally disordered person has multiple selves, each self with its own narrative.

So the self state, each self state has its own rigid narrative, but to cope with a variety of situations, circumstances, developments, occurrences, events, demands, what the mentally unhealthy person does, he uses different self states. He doesn't have multiplicity of narratives, but he has a multiplicity of self states, each one with a, with his own narrative.

So one of them fits the circumstances. One of them can cope with the situation. One of them can respond to demands and exigencies and vicissitudes of life.

So the mentally healthy person, the mentally unhealthy person, the mentally pathologized person keeps juggling self states in the air. And in this sense, actually simulates a multi narrative situation mediated via self states.

That's it. I can't think of any other way to say it. Apologies, we didn't get through. I'm going to explore two examples. And they are only examples. They're like every human behavior, every human mental state is reducible to a narrative.

There's a narrative underlying each and every day situation, each and every one of these situations, because meaning is at the core of mental health and mental illness, the existence of meaning, the all pervasiveness, ubiquity of meaning guarantees mental health. And if meaning is lacking or missing or distorted or inappropriate, then we have mental illness.

It's as simple as that. It's not something is Victor Franco, logotherapy. I have a video about meaning and logotherapy. And I recommend that you watch it. When meaning breaks down because there's no narrative available, the self breaks down.

So the absence of meaning is very, very crucial, very critical, and could be the mother and father of all mental health pathologies.

So the fact that I've chosen these two examples doesn't mean that everything I said is limited to these two examples. They are like a million others.


The first example I want to talk about is virtue signaling.

A virtue signaling is a behavior. And what it does, it denotes it signals a narrative, the existence of a narrative.

When people virtue signal, they're actually saying, I am a proponent and adherent, a believer in this and this narrative, virtue signaling is not limited to the walk, walk left. It's not limited to Marxist. It's anti-vaxxers, virtue signal, virtue signaling is common among anti-vaxxers, white supremacists, virtue signal, religious militants and fundamentalists, virtue signal.

Virtue signaling is a universal human behavior in collectives. Virtue signaling is a social bonding ritual. You bond with like-minded people by signaling to them your virtue.

And in this sense, virtue is another word for affiliation, adherence to the same set of values, principles and ideas.

Virtue signaling involves prescribed and proscribed actions. And in this sense, it reflects the underlying narrative.

The narrative says, this is what you should do. This is what you should never do.

And virtue signaling is enacting these commandments, enacting these behaviors so as to signal to other members of the collective that you're an in-person, not an out-person, you're an in-group member.

And so what virtue signaling does, it creates coherence and cohesion in the group by entraining all the members. And the entraining is done by repeating slogans and mantras.

I have two videos about entraining, one of them solo, and one of them by far better with Richard Grannon. And it's better because Richard Grannon is there, not me. Shoshanim, you think I don't know what you're thinking?

All right.

So let's summarize this bit.

Virtue signaling is a ritual. It also involves specific actions and eliminates or excludes other actions.

And in this sense, it is the reflection and the extension of the narrative.

One of the actions is speech act. One of the actions entails the repetition of slogans, mantras, passwords, scriptures. And this creates entraining, this coheres all the minds of the group, of the members of the group.

So the group has developed its own hive mind, or swarm mind. The group has a mind of its own, which is a consequence of the entraining of the underlying minds and brains of all the members.

And all this is a reification of the narrative.

Recent studies link virtue signaling to a victimhood personality construct and to dark triad propensities.

Virtue signaling is closely and intimately connected to subclinical psychopathy and subclinical narcissism.

And it's therefore a rigid behavior because it reflects a rigid, constrictive, proscriptive, prescriptive, ritualistic narrative.

Another example, depression. Depression is of course a narrative. It's the narrative of hopelessness.

In cognitive behavior therapy, when we deconstruct the mind of the depressive person, depressive patient, all we find is a series of sentences and automatic negative thoughts and other sentences, which create the depression.

This constant monologue, internal monologue of hopelessness, helplessness, including learned helplessness, futility, etc. This monologue, this narrative, unfolding narrative, creates a depression.

And one could even say it is the depression.

So depression is a narrative.

Now let's see how such a narrative can impact mental illness.

When we have a conjunction of a rigid narrative with mental illness, depression is a very rigid narrative, extremely rigid.

As anyone who had ever attempted to treat depression knows, and any family member of someone who is depressed knows, depression is very rigid. It's almost impossible to break it. You need psychopharmological intervention or very, very extreme measures to reverse depression.

It's a rigid narrative. It also provides the depressed person with rituals, prescribed behaviors, exactly like religion. It's a form of religion, actually. It's the worship of hopelessness.

So what happens when we have depression, which is a narrative with mental illness?

Let's take, for example, the comorbidity of depression with borderline personality disorder. Ironically, when we find depression and borderline personality disorder in the same patient, it reduces the incidence of reckless acting outand it improves impulse control.

Now that's a very counterintuitive thing, because what I'm saying actually is that when someone with borderline personality disorder has depression, also has depression, diagnosed depression, her behavior improves. Her behavior becomes more healthy. She's less reckless. She acts out lessand her impulse control is improved, is better.

These are all signs of mental health. It seems that minus and minus make a plus.

If you add depression to borderline personality disorder, you get a much more regulated and boundaried person.

How come? It's because depression is a narrative. It's not really, I think, a mental illness. Or perhaps some narratives are mental illnesses, but at any rate, it's much more a narrative than a mental illness.

So it tells you what to do. Depression tells you what to do, also tells you what to not do. For example, don't leave bed in the morning, stay in bed. Don't do anything.

So depression is a behavioral change agent. It has behavioral impacts. It also affects cognitions and emotions, of course. And so it changes, it alters any mental illness that it is comorbid with the depressive narcissist. Doesn't look anything like a narcissist. He actually becomes schizoid.

The depressive borderline doesn't look anything like a borderline. And this is why depressed borderlines have been mistakenly dubbed introverts or the nonsensical shy, quiet borderlines.

So depression and narrative can have a massive effect on the contours, criteria, outlines and behaviors associated with mental illness.

Narrative changes mental states. Narrative and narrative changes mental illness.

Depressed borderlines are much healthier than borderlines who are not depressed.

Outwardly, like every other dysphoric and hedonic and dystemic person, the depressed borderline is mostly homebound and listless. So when you look at such a borderline, you would notice mostly the depression rather than the borderline.

But when the veil of depression lifts, her true character emerges. When the depression is removed, for some reason, cyclically or owing to medication, when the depression is gone, the true personality problem comes. I mean, the borderline erupts.

Take away the depression and the borderline comes roaring back in full form. She becomes gregarious, promiscuous, novelty seeker, a dreary risk taker.

So depression serves to suppress borderline traits and behaviors. In this sense, it's ironically therapeutic.

And when we observe borderlines with depression from the outside, we would witness the narrative, not the underlying mental illness. We would notice the depression, not the borderline features.

In other words, narratives override mental states. Narratives camouflage and disguise mental illnesses. That's how powerful they are.

Okay, all the survivors out there, thank you for listening and I'll be with you. Yes, it's not a promise, it's a threat. I'll be with you later this week. Take shelter.

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