Story manipulation: how it happens and how to avoid it

In modern life, we constantly absorb new information. We observe what is happening around and question everything: what is it? What’s happening? What does it mean? What does it matter? What do I need to know?

Our goal is survival. We seek information that will help us survive physically, emotionally, mentally and socially.

As soon as we feel confident in our chances of survival, we begin to look for information that will help us somehow fulfill ourselves and satisfy our needs.

Sometimes finding sources of satisfaction is quite simple, just ask questions: how can I get more pleasure? How can I get more of what I like? How can I exclude what I don’t like?

And sometimes the pursuit of satisfaction is a deep and complex process: how can I contribute to this world? What can I do to help? What will help me feel better? Who am I? What is my goal?

Ideally, we all naturally want to move from seeking information about survival to seeking information about satisfaction. This is a natural progression of human knowledge, but things don’t always work out that way.

How stories influence our behavior

People who care about survival are easy to manipulate. They have obvious needs and triggers. Invite them to satisfy the need for survival – and they will follow you.

The easiest way to lead people along is not at all with demands or threats, as one might think. These are stories.

We all love stories. And most of all, those in which we play a central role. Therefore, it is easy to manipulate someone – it is enough to tell a person a good story in which he will become a part of it, a character, a protagonist, a hero.

Ignite his interest, captivate with a story, evoke emotions. Tell him the kind of story about him and his world that you want him to believe.

Depending on how good the plot is and how strong the emotional connection is, a person assimilates the story. From a story about someone else, the story will turn into a story about the reality of this person and about his place in it.

Being at the head of a story is not bad at all – but only if these stories are not destructive.

How Survival Stories Manipulate Us

When we strive to survive, we respond to opportunities as threats. We are on the defensive, not open. By default, we adhere to suspicious thinking, a mindset that is always busy marking the boundaries: where is “I” and where is “strangers”.

To survive, we must be sure of what belongs to “us” and what belongs to the rest of the world. We believe that we must prioritize and protect what is “ours”, that we must defend, limit, repel and fight what is “foreign”.

Ours vs. theirs stories have long been used as a political tool. Everyone seems to be convinced that political squabbles, division into groups and other such phenomena have reached unprecedented heights at the present time – but this is not so. These strategies have always been used in the struggle for power and have always been effective. There aren’t more of them, they’re just more obvious than ever.

How it works? First, the storytellers create cartoons (not characters, but cartoons). One set of cartoons is about “us” and the other is about “strangers”. It is easy to determine which set of caricatures belong to which group because all traits and identifying characteristics are exaggerated.

Next, the narrators tell a story that has certain rules:

• Cartoons must stay true to their exaggerated features, even at the cost of logical plot points. Logic doesn’t play a big role in these stories.

• Caricatures of “ours” act as heroes and/or victims.

• Caricatures of “strangers” should act as dim-witted or evil figures.

• There must be a conflict, but there must not be a resolution. In fact, many of these stories have a stronger impact when they lack a solution. The lack of a solution leads to a feeling of constant tension. Readers will feel that they urgently need to be part of the story and help find a solution.

How to take control of the story

We can reduce the manipulative power of these stories because we can write different versions of any story. We can use our vs. their structure to tell a completely different story.

When we do this, we introduce options. We show that groups can find peaceful solutions, that different people with different priorities can work together. We can turn conflict into cooperation and rejection into relationship. We can use stories to broaden perspectives and not be limited to just statements.

Here are four ways to change history without destroying the “ours versus theirs” structure:

1. Change the plot. Instead of showing the conflict between us and them, show the conflict in which we and they come together to deal with a larger conflict.

2. Enter a thoughtful decision. Show a resolution that is adequate for all participants. Change the decision from “defeating strangers” to “a solution that benefits everyone.”

3. Convert cartoons to characters. Real people have feelings. They can grow and learn. They have goals and values ​​and generally just want to be happy and do good things in their lifetime. Try to turn the caricature into a believable and deep character.

4. Initiate a dialogue. Both in the story itself (let the characters communicate and interact peacefully and beneficially with each other to show that this is possible), and literally: have conversations about these stories – all stories – with all kinds of real people.

As you rethink these stories more and more, they will begin to lose their power. They will lose the ability to play with your emotions, trick you, or get you so deep into the storyline that you forget who you really are. They will no longer inspire you with the status of a victim or protector, make a caricature of you. They can’t label or frame you. They can’t use or manipulate you as a character in a story you didn’t write.

Breaking out of this narrative framework is a step towards freedom from being controlled by other people’s stories.

Or, more importantly, it can be a step towards freedom from your own stories, the old ones that keep you from growing. The ones that make you feel hurt, hurt, broken. Stories that trap you but keep you from healing. Stories that want to define your future by calling on your past.

You are more than your own stories. And, of course, you are more than anyone else’s stories, no matter how deeply you feel them and how much you care about them. You are several characters in many stories. Your multiple self lives a rich, deep, expansive life, immersing itself in stories at will, learning and evolving through every interaction.

Remember: stories are tools. Stories are not reality. They are needed to help us learn to understand, empathize and choose. We must see each story for what it is: a potential version of reality.

If you want history to become your reality, believe in it. If not, write a new one.

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