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This is how we use words to comfort ourselves

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Do you feel like there's something you need to compartmentalize? This is how you use words to do that.

‘I have managed to work it out,’ she ends her narrative. I nod. Indeed, it sounds like my good friend has sorted out the complex relationship she had with her mother, who passed away a year ago. There’s a calm acquiescence in her voice. The dust of the toughest emotions has settled, she has found conclusive explanations.

Logical and valid

We all make stories about the things that happen in our lives, just to be able to endure them. That’s what people are like: we do something, something happens or something is done to us, and we make it valid in our mind. We need it, this nicely rounded, logically sounding stories. Thát’s how it happened. And it couldn’t have happened any other way.

Words as tools

The words we choose, after endless fretting, going over details again and tinkering our theories, are beacons. They help us to accept the things that have happened to us, as part of life, to integrate them in our history and in the way we see ourselves.

Autoprotection versus truth

The beauty of stories is that, the more often you tell them, they change without you noticing it. Every time you tell them, you add something and you leave something out. That’s how they grow with you. The question is: does telling them again and again bring you closer to what really happened – or further away? I really don’t know. A measure might be whether, as the years go by, you end up better or worse. If you are worse, it might mean you are getting closer to the truth. The truth has vindicated over autoprotection.

My friend shows me one of the last pictures of her mom on her phone and looks at me as if she’s thinking: I’m OK with it. Her interpretation of what happened is useful to her, right now, it offers her grip, clarity and comfort. Right now, she can’t come closer to the truth.

At the same time I know, and perhaps she does too, that it’s just a story. And that, five years after today, she will tell me another one.  

Text: Susan Smit