Stories that Feel Good are More Likely to be True

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Stories that Feel Good
Are More Likely to be True
 

By Glenn Perry

This essay contains some ideas I wrote down after talking with a friend who was obsessing about his breakup with an ex-girlfriend, which was quite literally driving him crazy. He was caught in a negative loop: the more he thought about her, the worse he felt. He was not merely obsessing, he was in a death spiral of morbid rumination that virtually guaranteed he could only feel worse, and never better. How can one escape from such a quicksand of negative thinking? Insight into one’s birthchart can certainly help, but that’s just the beginning.

 

It is characteristic of human beings to engage in self-talk. That is, we talk to ourselves, constantly. Internal dialogues are an attempt to make sense out of experiences, which, in turn, can be categorized in terms of meaning attributions, starting in childhood. A meaning attribution is an attribution of meaning to an experience―in other words, an interpretation. These tacit interpretations, which are frequently outside of awareness, subsequently inform our conscious thoughts and feelings.

In effect, we make up stories, which invariably are consistent with our horoscope and capable of evolving toward more fulfilling versions over time. As this idea was outlined in a previous article, The Horoscope as Evolving Story, my intention here is to focus more thoroughly on the origin and evolution of these internal stories.

Personal narratives are constructed from deep, habitual, often unconscious beliefs, many of which formed in childhood during periods when the self was unavoidably egocentric and prone to assuming responsibility for every experience. Children tend to think, “Whatever happens to me, is because of me,” and “How I’m treated, is how I deserve to be treated.”

The younger the child, the more egocentric. And the more egocentric, the more the child is inclined to identify with momentary, limited experiences. If experience is good, the self is good; if it’s bad, the self is bad. When early experience is consistently bad (frustrating, depriving, hurtful), resultant ideas about the self become deeply ingrained, and the child is vulnerable to developing a fixed, negative identity that may be completely discrepant with his true talents and worth.

The Case of Aaron
This was the case with my aforementioned friend, whom I’ll call Aaron. As with all internal stories, the basic outline of Aaron’s personal narrative is symbolized by his astrological chart (see Figure 1), which not only depicts his character structure, but also the fate that flows from this structure.

Figure 1: Chart of Aaron

Like all of us, Aaron’s story had its roots in childhood. As the oldest of four children, he was tasked with taking care of his younger siblings while his parents worked. In family therapy literature, Aaron would be identified as “the parentified child”. Burdened with the responsibilities of parenthood, yet without the power or authority to enforce compliance, he was placed in a no-win, double-bind. If Aaron strong-armed his siblings, he incurred their wrath and retaliation; however, if he failed to control them, he suffered punishment from his parents for failure to fulfill his responsibilities.

Aaron’s dilemma was compounded by a mother who was inordinately concerned with the social status of her family. Accordingly, she was always “on him” for not measuring up to her standards of absolute perfection. She was especially concerned with the image he (and she) projected to the outside world. Aaron would later lament, “my mother didn’t love me.” He concluded that her constant criticism was proof of his deficiency on virtually every measure. In fact, however, he was conscientious, dutiful, well-behaved, an excellent student, star athlete in high school, won a scholarship to Yale, played quarterback on their football team, and was ultimately drafted by the NFL. You cannot get much more successful than that.

Yet, as an adult, Aaron was plagued with anxiety, depression, and anticipation of failure. He was so afraid of being oppressed, controlled, and judged that he found it extremely difficult to work for a company. Instead, he made his living independently as an all-around handy-man capable of fixing virtually any problem that might arise in homes―electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and so on.

Eventually, he found himself in a familiar double-bind. He and his girlfriend purchased and moved into an old, run-down four-story colonial home that Aaron dedicated himself to fixing up with the intention of selling for a profit. The dwelling was huge, but Aaron tackled his tasks with his usual energy and competence. Unfortunately, it was a costly and lengthy undertaking that slowly drained the finances of his girlfriend, who went off each day to work only to come home to new expenses and more problems. Not surprisingly, her anger and frustration was often directed at Aaron. For until the house was finished and sold, Aaron generated no income. This went on for years, during which the housing market crashed and the value of their property was substantially reduced.

This created severe anxiety and feelings of failure in Aaron, which spilled out in tense, guilt-saturated relations with his girlfriend. The double-bind was that if he continued his efforts to renovate the property, it further depleted his girlfriend’s finances with little prospect of success; yet, if he failed to measure up to her expectations, he jeopardized the relationship. At least that’s what he believed. In the end, they were forced to sell their home at a loss. Aaron’s arduous work over several years produced nothing. By the time they finally unloaded the house, their 7-year relationship had deteriorated beyond repair. She decided to end it and acquire a place of her own. Aaron was devastated. He had no money, no job, no home, and no girlfriend. Rejected and alone, he contemplated suicide.

The parallels in Aaron’s adult situation with those of his childhood are readily apparent. As a parentified child, he stayed home to manage and discipline his three younger siblings, a task that not only deprived him of his childhood, but also set him up for failure since he had neither the maturity nor the means to succeed at the task assigned him. As an adult, he again stayed home to complete tasks that required an almost superhuman effort―singlehandedly renovating a home whose problems were never-ending. And just as his mother came home each day to evaluate his work when he was a child, so his girlfriend likewise came home to review his progress. The pressure to perfect his home and make a success of his undertaking recapitulated the stress he experienced trying to live up to his mother’s unrelenting standards of perfection.

In the wake of the rejection by his girlfriend, Aaron reverted to his customary internal story of being an unworthy, unlovable child. His unconscious strategy to disconfirm this self-judgement was twofold: First, project his guilt by blaming his girlfriend’s decision to leave on her deficiencies―that is, her lack of caring and support. Second, win her back by demonstrating renewed dedication to her well-being. When this failed, he became even more mired in obsessive ruminations about why she left him. Aaron, as we might say in the vernacular, was stuck―stuck in a story that virtually guaranteed he would feel bad. Inside the narrow confines of his self-narrative, he was a miserable failure.

As astrologers, we should not be surprised when a present situation parallels a past one, for both are manifestations of the same chart configuration. In this case, the pattern is reflected in Aaron’s Moon conjunct Saturn in Virgo straddling his Ascendant. Moon rules mother, home and real estate; Saturn symbolizes responsibility and demands for perfection; Virgo is task oriented and problem focused; and the Ascendant pertains to an instinctive way of acting upon the world for the sake of survival and freedom. Taken together, the configuration suggests an inborn tendency to feel undeserving of love and life unless one successfully fulfills domestic responsibilities and completes tasks imposed by a harsh maternal figure.

Clearly, this constitutes a pattern that Aaron is repeating from childhood. Unless one believes that the cosmos has afflicted him with a condition of perpetual, irremediable suffering and that this condition is symbolized by the configuration, the question arises as to whether such repetitions serve any purpose. Is there a higher-level expression of Moon-Saturn Virgo conjunct Ascendant that might afford Aaron some chance at happiness? Is there a destiny at work here, and if so, how can he grow toward fulfillment of it?

In the remainder of this essay, we will explore this question not merely as it relates to Aaron, but in terms of general principles. The first of these is that repetition of experience serves the purpose of providing both incentive and opportunity for changing cognitive habits that produce unnecessary suffering. If Aaron is to break out of the spiral of negative thought in which he is mired, he will need to disconfirm old beliefs and replace them with a broader, more compassionate and forgiving understanding.

The Construction of Self Stories
Self-stories have emotional consequences, and those that create suffering tend to be rooted in narrow, pathogenic ideas based on earlier, more egocentric forms of thinking. Conversely, stories that feel good are broader, more comprehensive, and thus more likely to be true. We will examine why momentarily.

Consider that there are two parts to every experience, inner and outer. The outer dimension is our relationship to an actual event or situation. These can be specific, personal relationships with a sibling, spouse, or boss, or they can be relationships with more abstract entities such as government officials, corporations, society, men or women. The inner factor is comprised of meanings that are constructed to make sense of outer experiences. Once established, such meanings are then projected onto future experiences representative of that same entity.

If a boy grew up with a seductive mother who manipulated him emotionally, he might later think as an adult: “Woman are seductive and dishonest in their expression of affection; they use men for the money and status they gain from the relationship.” A woman who was molested as a child by her uncle, who initially was merely affectionate, might subsequently think, “Most men are selfish and exploitive and just want to use me for sex; they don’t really care about me. I’m just an object to them.” In other words, human beings are prone to generalizing from powerful, but limited, formative experiences.

Meaning attributions tend to be habitual and are applied to any analogous event. Mental habits are organized like a tree with deeper, more abstract and more encompassing beliefs constituting the roots of one’s theory of reality. Grounded in a relatively limited number of core convictions, these abstract, general postulates operate more or less unconsciously. They are simply “givens,” unquestioned assumptions and resultant attitudes. Extending upward and outward from these general postulates are more particular ideas that pertain to various departments of life—self-concepts about survivability, prosperity, intelligence, belonging, play, work, relationships, religion, politics, and career. In turn, each of these categories produce yet more specific thoughts that constitute our everyday thinking and perceptions.

Like buds on a single branch, everyday thoughts are but the visible features of a deeper, more complex generative process. The thoughts we think and the words we speak well up from a less conscious dimension, the deep structure or “narrative” that supports, shapes, and informs the contents of our awareness.  

The purpose of mental habits is to maintain the organization of the self. A person keeps thinking and doing the same thing because it is literally who they are—or, at least who they believe they are. However, the self-concept is just that: a concept constructed from multiple, intersecting meanings (beliefs) that are repeated over time and serve to organize identity and preserve one’s way of being in the world.

It is common to conflate events with the meaning one gives them. Many of us are only dimly aware that meanings are constructed and therefore distinct from events. Thoughts are not sharply differentiated from lived experience. Karen sees a man with extensive tattoos and thinks: “That guy is an ex-convict; stay away from him.” Perception and thought are fused, as if one is inexorably connected to the other. Yet, meaning-making is a freely chosen creative act. Failure to recognize this causes perception and meaning to merge. Mike’s boss appears to have a sour attitude and Mike concludes, “My boss has it in for me.” Mike might not question how much his conclusion is a projection—a creative act—rather than an objective fact.

The Origin of Internal Stories
Experience tends to be interpreted in ways consistent with the developmental stage in which it originated. It follows that a child cannot think about an experience at a level that exceeds his developmental range; thus, events are given meanings that reflect the developmental concerns and capacities of the existent stage. The earlier the experience, the more narrow the interpretation and the less conscious the thought process.

Cognitive psychology teaches that subjective experience is generated via a three-step process: perception, interpretation, feeling. Because perception precedes interpretation and interpretation generates feeling, it is easy to conclude that experience determines one’s emotional reactions. But this leaves out interpretation, which mediates between perceptions and feelings. For example, if Frank observes someone with a lot of money and thinks they are selfish, he may feel angry. Yet, from perception to state is mediated by a thought, “He is selfish.” The event does not cause Frank’s feeling; his interpretation of the event does, even if the interpretation is occurring at an unconscious level. Frank is participating in the creation of reality whether he knows it or not.

The question, “How does that make you feel?” wrongly implies that feelings are determined by events rather than by one’s interpretation of them. This can lead to futile efforts to change outer conditions in order to improve inner feelings. In fact, the inner state is mediated by thoughts one has about the external situation.

There is a crucial difference between influence and control. An individual can influence others, such as a co-worker’s behavior, but cannot control that behavior. We can, however, control our thoughts to a significant degree. Ironically, thoughts are the only things within one’s control. I can choose to judge my co-worker’s behavior as selfish and hostile―or, as motivated by fear and a wish to protect herself from pain. Each choice entails different meanings, feelings, and resultant responses. In fact, the two ways of viewing the same behavior are not mutually exclusive. The co-worker’s behavior may, in fact, be selfish and hostile, yet the latter interpretation incorporates the former in a more complex, compassionate, and forgiving framework of meaning.

Again, a meaning attribution is a kind of story that involves the self with an outer condition, such as politics. Story constructions generally operate outside of awareness. Someone with Saturn square Pluto might tacitly believe that all people in authority, especially government officials, are greedy power mongers conspiring to exploit the citizenry for personal gain. This belief may not be fully conscious; yet, it will determine what the person attends to and the meanings he infers from his observations.

Supported by selective attention, such a story has its initial consequences on an internal level. First, it will determine feelings, then attitudes, and then behavior—the television stations he watches, the friends he associates with, the sources of information he accesses and prefers (TV networks, radio talk shows, magazines, newspapers, books), and so on. Information sources tend to be chosen that buttress presuppositions. This is variously referred to as cherry picking, selective attention, or confirmatory bias. Most people live in a bubble of self-referential stories reinforced by deeply ingrained, perceptual habits.

Again, different people can access the same information and give it radically different meanings. Any single event can be interpreted on multiple levels, from narrow-shallow to broad-deep. While most of us recognize this in a general sense, opinions are often mistaken for self-evident truths. This is partly because recognition of fallibility and uncertainty is anxiety provoking; thus, it is avoided. It could be argued that enlightenment is largely a process of disillusionment, a crumbling away of untruth, a seeing through the facade of pretense and gradually eliminating half-truths and erroneous assumptions previously thought to be unequivocally true.

The Cone of Thought: Feelings Reflect Level of Thinking
Given that any particular event can be interpreted in multiple ways, different stories can be constructed from the same event. In politics, this is called “spin”. Meaning attributions constitute a spun “narrative” about events.

But here’s the main point: Happiness is directly proportional to a story’s level of truth. Hence, stories that feel bad are more likely to be false; whereas stories that feel good are more likely to be true. 

Why is this so? 

Imagine that a story about an experience can be constructed on an emotional scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being an interpretation that is utterly despairing, hopeless and frightening, and 10 being a story that evokes feelings of acceptance, flow, and happiness. Picture this scale as a cone of thought, narrow and shallow at the bottom, wide and deep at the top (see Figure 2). Stories at the bottom of the scale are comparatively narrow and egocentric, with distorted thinking and pathogenic assumptions. The story itself generates suffering and discord.

Conversely, stories closer to the top are comparatively broad-minded, data rich, and complex. Stories at higher levels incorporate information from below but go beyond to a more comprehensive understanding. There is a deep, insightful awareness accompanied by faith, wisdom, and compassion. Such stories are emotionally stabilizing and generate comparative serenity. People who operate on the basis of higher stories do not get knocked off their emotional center so easily; they are more resilient and capable of flowing with events rather than allowing events to determine how they feel.

Figure 2: The Cone of Thought

The important point is that higher levels of thought tend to be inclusive of lower levels, while adding something new. This is precisely what makes the story broader and deeper by comparison.  

An example would be a woman who thinks she wasn’t a good mother to her now adult son. She sees him struggling with social and professional issues and thinks, “I wasn’t a good enough mother…” This thought process has various ramifications that lead her down a rabbit hole of further negative thought, “I’m the cause of my son’s problems…he is suffering because of me…his life is restricted in fulfillment because of my flaws and failings…if he commits suicide, it will be my fault.”

To the extent that she identifies with this story, she will be consumed with guilt and spiral downwards. This might cause her to criticize her son, telling him what to do and becoming attached to whether he does it. She needs him to do better so she can feel better; she projects her guilt into him and exhorts him to be a better person so she can feel like a better mother. But this merely evokes guilt and resentment in the son who pushes back, so their relationship spins into a negative cycle of avoidance, conflict, and mutual recriminations.

The issue is not that the mother’s story is untrue, but that it’s partially true. A larger truth would be that every mother is imperfect; we all make mistakes. While mistakes inevitably impact children, this is unavoidable, part of the human condition. Children must go forward and make choices in accord with their own destiny, and parents are neither responsible for those choices nor the consequences that flow from them.

Moreover, children have an inborn character that is not merely the product of their environment even if their environment is synchronistic with (reflective of) their initial character. Causality is circular and reciprocal so that the child impacts the parent as much as vice versa. If one adds a karmic, spiritual perspective, it may even be that the larger intelligence of the cosmos orchestrated the birth precisely so mother and son could be challenged in specific ways to facilitate their mutual development.

The above is a more expanded framework of meaning. It acknowledges that life is a co-evolutionary process and that children always have the opportunity to learn, heal, and evolve via experiences that are self-generated. In the fullness of time, they may make useful contributions to society precisely because of the growth that results from their suffering.

Such a view exemplifies a more hopeful, positive, and forgiving understanding. It inevitably leads to better feelings because it is more true than the prior, limited and comparatively false narrative. In fact, the better feelings that result are the best proof of the story’s truth.

Spiritual Bypassing
Broader, more encompassing stories can be differentiated from attempts to merely deny pain. The latter is commonly referred to as “spiritual bypassing”, or what Robert Masters calls, “avoidance in holy drag.” Many people spout platitudes and employ spiritual solutions in a misguided attempt to transcend emotionally wrenching experiences―experiences that actually require immersion and integration. While spiritual practices have validity in proper measure in some situations, they can be misappropriated and overutilized to serve a defensive purpose.

Examples include excessive compassion and blind tolerance rather than acknowledge that certain behaviors have destructive consequences; exaggerated detachment and emotional numbing in response to threatening events; premature forgiveness rather than accepting, expressing, and working through appropriate anger; porous boundaries as a substitute for the more difficult task of saying “no” and asserting limits; dismissal of dysphoric feelings via stock phrases such as, “what bothers you about others is really about you,” “we create our own reality,” and “it’s all just an illusion.”

These defenses cloak one’s emotional truth in holy vestures that suggest an elevated, spiritual sensibility. But they are the equivalent of a metaphysical martini, erecting a hazy, artificial barrier to painful feelings, repressed needs, or disturbing facts. What might under other circumstances be considered a healthy attitude, can be overused and misapplied to bypass the stress of inner work. Compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, detachment, recognition of impermanence, withdrawal of projection, and acceptance of responsibility for self-created experience all have value in the larger scheme of things; yet, can also be perversely exaggerated in an attempt to avoid difficult challenges and uncomfortable truths.

Spiritual bypassing may appear similar to broader, more encompassing stories, but only superficially. A spiritual bypass is like a flowery tree with shallow roots: attractive for as long as it lasts, but easily blown over by a stiff wind in an emotional storm. Conversely, healthy stories incorporate suffering and use it as loam for the cultivation of integrity and authentic wisdom. True spirituality does not confer a bubble of immunity that insulates one from sorrow; rather, it enables us to go into our pain more deeply, to embrace and endure suffering in the faith that it will eventually lead to higher ground.

No One is Exempt from Suffering
As an inherent part of life, suffering may even have spiritual value. Experiences of defeat, loss, failure, rejection, and disappointment are inescapable. At higher levels of thought, however, these events do not generate feelings that are unbearable. Instead, one’s emotional level tends to return to a state of relative happiness more quickly, and eventually toward greater happiness as the learning that accompanies the experience is metabolized to facilitate yet more growth.

In other words, the depth, intensity, and duration of suffering can be alleviated by thoughts one has about the precipitating events. So, to prevent unnecessary and prolonged suffering one must reach for a higher thought. A higher (or better) thought is an interpretation of events that feels better than an interpretation that feels worse. Better thoughts are more empathic, compassionate, and forgiving. Their power derives from a more encompassing, balanced and complex view as opposed to one that is restricted, lopsided, or simplistic.

Better thoughts also tend to be more realistic in the sense of being in accord with reality. They do not jump to the transpersonal to avoid the personal, but rather incorporate both in a balanced whole. Higher thoughts tend to have greater validity than lower thoughts. They are higher in that they are more clarifying and comprehensive. They explain more than simpler thoughts, which tend to feel worse and explain less.

Again, there are occasions when perception, interpretation, and feeling are entirely in accord with reality and yet the person still suffers. If a woman loses a beloved spouse due to illness and concludes, “I will never see my husband in this life again and I will deeply miss him,” it would be reasonable to expect she will experience grief for a time. Jung defined neurosis as a failure to endure legitimate suffering. Stories that feel better do not exempt one from sorrows necessitated by mortality, impermanence, and human imperfection. Everyone at some point will experience hardship and loss. Everyone will make mistakes and suffer the consequences―drinking too much, making a rash decision, saying the wrong thing, enabling others and having it backfire―the list goes on. It is necessary to face these experiences honestly and courageously.

Even if one assesses the meaning of events in a way that minimizes unnecessary suffering, one still must undergo necessary suffering. But a person who engages in negative thinking will suffer more than required. Their made-up stories compound, deepen, and prolong their suffering, making it seem as if there’s no exit, no escape. One is doomed, trapped in unending despair. They may bitterly lament, “Why do bad things always happen to me!?”

Conversely, stories that feel good allow one to move up the emotional scale from worse to better. One ascends the emotional scale one thought at a time. Paradoxically, feeling better occurs by honoring legitimate suffering rather than resisting it. By situating inescapable sorrow in a more comprehensive, positive and uplifting framework, events that cause suffering are imbued with redemptive meaning. They become stepping stones across a creek of temporary misfortune rather than cement blocks tied to your feet at the bottom of a lake of chronic pain.

Revisiting Aaron 
For Aaron, willingness to endure legitimate suffering meant accepting that the best laid plans do not always yield desired results. Sometimes events occur for which one bears no responsibility; yet, they obstruct success. And this, in turn, may have additional consequences, such as loss of a relationship. The larger question is whether such a sequence of events serves a purpose.

First, Aaron would need to consider if there is some potential gain from his ordeal. For example, are circumstances requiring him to develop in a way that he might not otherwise? Perhaps working on his house further prepared him for a career in home renovation that would serve him well in the years ahead. In fact, this seems to have been the case. Seen retrospectively, it often becomes apparent that tests and trials at one stage of life are preparatory for opportunities yet to come.

Second, planets on the Ascendant are naturally associated with fresh starts and new beginnings. Aaron might contemplate that for his life to move forward, some things need to end. Saturn is especially prone to “clearing the decks” and downsizing so that a more economical, productive strategy can be employed. As much as he wanted his relationship to continue, it was important for him to trust and accept that it was not meant to be for reasons he would only later discover.

Third and most importantly, his distress should incentivize a fearless reflection on whether there is a lesson to be learned. Given the obvious parallels between his present and past relationships with maternal figures, Aaron might legitimately wonder if his house situation recapitulated his childhood experience and whether his girlfriend was a surrogate for his mother. As mentioned, repetition of childhood experience provides an incentive and opportunity for changing cognitive habits that produce unnecessary suffering.

His belief from childhood was that he was responsible for his sibling’s behavior despite not having the authority or power to control them. If one of them broke a lamp from roughhousing and his mother arrived home upset, Aaron assumed it was his fault. In his current situation, the situation was similar. Just as he could not force his siblings to behave responsibly in his parent’s absence, so he had no control over the housing market or the cost of problems arising unexpectedly in his home renovation project. If his girlfriend became upset in response to these events, her feelings might be legitimate, but that does not equate to it being his fault. Any blame or anger directed at him would be inappropriate. In other words, the similarity of his present situation to his childhood afforded him the opportunity review and revise his internal narrative and forgive himself for events over which he never had any control. In so doing, he not only can redo his past, he can liberate himself from unwarranted guilt and unnecessary suffering associated with present events.

In time, Aaron came to see that he craved his girlfriend’s love and support because he was trying to make up for a deficit left over from childhood. Yet, his strategy of trying too hard to please her―that is, work nonstop toward an unattainable goal of perfect control―merely resulted in exhaustion, at which point he became grumpy and dejected. His herculean efforts to prevent what he feared―criticism and rejection―actually brought it about, for co-habiting with someone who is perpetually stressed, guilt ridden, and irritable is not conducive to long term relationship stability. His girlfriend left him at least in part because he was unpleasant to live with. It was only by losing her that he came to see that his neediness was the manifestation of a childhood dependency on his mother’s love that had been chronically unfulfilled. Living on his own afforded him the opportunity to develop an internal self-love rather than remaining solely dependent on receiving emotional supplies from the outside.

This, in effect, would become the new narrative. His internal dialogue shifted from excessive worry and irrational self-blame to: “I work hard to provide a comfortable living space for myself and others. In the process, problems will inevitably arise that I could not have foreseen or prevented. Part of the joy of building and maintaining homes is my ability to adapt in the moment to what needs to be done, and to implement practical solutions. But some situations arise that have no solution; they are merely predicaments to be endured with patience and forbearance. Not everything is my fault or my responsibility. There are limits to what I or anyone can accomplish.”

 

Figure 3: Chart of Aaron

Note that Aaron’s new narrative reflects a higher-level expression of his Saturn-Moon conjunction in Virgo on the Ascendant. Such astrological configurations not only symbolize past adaptations to difficult circumstances, they also point the way to a higher, more comprehensive understanding. Whereas his old narrative reflected an innate tendency to feel undeserving of love and life unless he successfully fulfilled domestic responsibilities imposed by a cold, punitive maternal figure, his new narrative enabled him to see that his mother’s behavior reflected her fears, flaws and failings, not his goodness or lovability as a son. Rather than a relentless striving for perfection to justify his own existence, Aaron learned to appreciate his skills and talents as a worker, to enjoy the journey rather than the destination, to take joy in the fulfillment of duties without undue attachment to outcomes, and to deepen emotional connections with others via the services he provides.

Certainly, there is more we could say about Aaron’s chart―his Sun in Cancer, the Moon-Saturn square to Venus―but I do not wish to distract from the main thrust of this essay, which is about the importance of self-talk. In reflecting upon Aaron’s story, I am reminded of lines from the 1927 prose poem, Desiderata, by American writer Max Ehrmann. Desiderata was Erhmann’s letter to his son, but it could just as well signify a higher-level narrative that Aaron was learning to author for himself. It reflects an optimal blend of Saturnian and Lunar sensibilities.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. 

Summary & Conclusion 
Repetition of childhood experience provides an opportunity for gaining insight into the origin of pathogenic narratives, and for achieving liberation from the stranglehold they exert upon the psyche. New, more complex narratives can replace the previous story’s inherent limitations.

Stories that feel good are more likely to be true. Conversely, stories that feel bad tend to be comparatively false. At best, chronically painful stories constitute partial truths that operate within a restricted frame of meaning. Resultant negative feelings―guilt, shame, fear, hurt, sadness, resentment, anger―are inevitable by-products of the story’s incompleteness.

These false narratives constitute a shell in which the person is trapped, but with sufficient effort can break free. To be liberated from false narratives―that is, to feel better rather than worse―requires a more comprehensive view in which the prior story’s incompleteness can be seen objectively. This entails shifting to a less egoic perspective that elevates awareness from a comparatively shallow understanding to one that is broader and deeper.

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3 thoughts on “Stories that Feel Good are More Likely to be True

  1. Your article is full of insights into human nature. As you say, “self-referential stories” relating to childhood trauma can generate “a shell in which the person is trapped”, not least for the Cancerian personality with a long associative memory. Once you can step back and see this personal drama from a broader and deeper perspective–and this is where the astrological chart can act as a guide by providing an alternative framework of understanding–then you can move forward and build and positive future.

  2. I particularly found Glenn’s reflections on a mother’s guilt about her child’s issues to be very, very wise and helpful! He brought the astrological perspective into that issue so beautifully.

    A thoughtful article with a lot of depth.

  3. Well done Glenn! I read it through with many “AHA” moments…The Saturn/Moon Virgo archetype perfectly displayed here…and the idea that good thoughts are more true is fascinating and interesting and actually makes sense… Understanding this seems to be important. I am going to wear it for awhile and see if it fits, properly…Thanks for taking this on and sharing it for all of us! Lynne

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