The Self and Other Fairy Tales - Your Brain on Stories
We have multiple operating systems on our "I"-cloud & it's time to update them
A path leads from identification by way of imitation to empathy, that is to the comprehension of the mechanism by which we are enabled to take up any attitude at all towards another mental life.
— Freud (1921, p. 110)
Some animals come into this world more self-sufficient than others. Newborn giraffe calves, are able to walk around on their own within hours of birth. Human babies are born extremely early & underdeveloped in their development phase. For the first two months of life, they can't even lift their heads without help and generally remain dependent on parents or caregivers for a couple of years.
A as a species, our survival depends on our ability for social bonding. The first bonding starts with “emotional contagion” which is a simple form of empathy, where we are infected with others’ emotions or behavior. Even newborn children absorb their social environment, how people react to others, events and themselves.
Babies don't have yet a sense of self. Yet they soon build up an "extended self" (Andy Clark & David Chalmers) via empathic resonance. Young children construct their sense of self in relation to others. A social "Self via You".
In this sense, social identification, empathy, and “we-ness” are one of the main building blocks of our cognitive development and being. "How does mummy react when something goes wrong?" "How does Daddy speak?“
Young children after falling on the floor, look immediately to Mummy or Daddy to figure out if the fall should be worried about, when Mummy reacts dramatically, the baby will do the same. If mummy laughs at the baby, the young child laughs. This is called "Referencing".
Based on empathic resonance with different identity blueprints from the baby’s nearest environment plus various other factors (gens, physiological & psychological health, …) the child develops a model of it’s own sense of self. This mental map of our identity functions similar to an operating system, a simulation of what it feels like to be a person, an acting agent.
Your identity is nothing more than a fiction: a simulation of yourself self that provides functional meaning and values. The Narrated Self guides us by projecting meaning onto our perceived world. It orientates us in the ocean of rising & passing patterns in our awareness and is central to our meaning-making. It provides us with awe-inspiring beauty, it provides the stage for “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.
"You are a story that the brain tells itself about a fictional person."
A lack of emotional reference can lead to a weak sense of self & low self-esteem. Which causes us to be sensitive to negative feedback and critique. Having a lack of emotional reference can lead to lifelong phobias and depression.
When we feel unsecure in our Sense of Self, we become dependent of external validation, in order to inform of the self worth. We start comparing ourselves and compose our goals out of social validation (family, partner or friends) instead of intrinsic joy.
Synchronized in Communication & Fiction
In special situations, we have the feeling that we are in resonance with something or someone, and that magical feeling goes far beyond mere intellectual perception or language cognition. Our brains attune and couple during a conversation, synchronizing beyond and regardless of the content of communication. 
Based on such intersubjective synchronization we create simulation of others in our brain. This so-called Embodied Simulation presents an implicit, automatic, and unconscious process that enables us to feel the actions, intentions, and emotions of others. Connecting and grounding our identification.
Beyond interpersonal communication, a study in Science magazine provides experimental evidence that literary fiction “uniquely engages the psychological processes needed to gain access to characters’ subjective experiences.” Reading Literary Fiction improves Theory of Mind meaning if you read novels, you train your capacity to comprehend other peoples feelings and perspectives. 
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
When reading a novel, watching a movie or playing a computer game, we are experiencing another characters mind. The same happens while dreaming, where our mind simulates multiple interacting personalities and protagonists. Experiencing a different consciousness than your own within your own consciousness is also called Narrative empathy.
“Narrative empathy is the sharing of feeling and perspective-taking induced by reading, viewing, hearing, or imagining narratives of another's situation and condition.” 
“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?”
— Henry David Thoreau.
Cooking our own story
Usually the process of absorbing and creating of our Sense of Self takes place in the darkness of our sneaky subconsious. We are influenced by the stories & role models from our random geo-location on planet earth, the bullies at school, partners and parents and confused teenager experiences.
Unfortunately, most of those randomly acquired identity blueprints become frozen patterns of behaviour. Rigid roles that limit our personal and interpersonal horizon and therefore our possibilities to grow and heal. Only if we gain awareness of the stories that rule our lifes, we can find tools to break the cage of reactive patterns. Only when we become the author of our own story, can we reinvent ourselves and unleash us from the rusty chains of repetetive struggles.
But how is that really possible?
By becoming naughty heretics of our own believes & stories. By letting loose of our old narratives and by creating fresh energetic Tales of Heroes that support this absurd futile adventure called Life.
One possibility for proactive and healthy story creation can be to become a “Connaisseur” for narratives and their aesthetic. A “Connaisseur” or artist does not paint to finish the painting or sell it. An artist paints because he enjoys playing with colors and patterns. An artist “has taste”. Having taste in something means that you feel intrinsic joy and meaning in the act itself.
The biological reason for nutritional taste is to distinguish healthy from unhealthy components. The biological reason for aesthetic taste is to distinguish healthy from unhealthy mental maps.
“In a world of infinite experience, it is the aesthete who is safest, not the ascetic. Abstinence will not work. The only cure for too much fiction is good fiction.” 
When we are starving for food or super hungry, we don’t care much about taste, we just eat the next best thing. When we feel complete unsecure in our sense of self, when we are starving for emotional connection we are not choosy for mental maps and structure, we just hold onto the next best concept, authority or “strong man”.
Our desire for emotional security, for stability in our sense of self cannot be fixed by focusing more on ourselves. Trying to find certainty about ourselves, trying to find our pure real Self will only widen the meaningless void in our center.
“If you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." - Nietzsche
Fritz Künkel (1982) describes the term “Ich-Haftigkeit” [self-orientation] as being concerned with one's own impact, aligning all actions with personal purposes, guided by rigid ego ideals (flawless, good, poor, suffering, etc.).
In contrast, Künkel sees "Sachlichkeit" [Objectivity, Factuality] as a requirement, as an important characteristic of the free human being, whose actions are based on a state of affairs perceived in the environment, who sets goals that go beyond the self, who sees their own interests as part of the overall situation. This allows him to be lively, flexible, productive.
As paradox as it sounds for healing ourselves, our only chance to become ourselves is by others. Our sense of self is communication. We as “Selfs“ are merely Links of interpersonal meaning and as long as we continue to participate in the game of meaning creation we can ride the constant collapsing wave of “Self via You”, “Self via The World”. By widening our “altruistic radius” creating healthy identifications and meaning that turn our focus away from the self towards the world.
"Confidence isn't walking into a room thinking you are better than everyone, it's walking in and not having to compare yourself to anyone et all."
Cultivating a sense of narrative aesthetic on the other hand allows us to participate in more playful and creative ways. Creating healthy artful meaning which serves our interconnected community of animals, plants and fungi.
Instead of hunting any sufficiently shiny carrot before our eyes, we can create our own meaningful rewards. We can find inspiring resonance and connection instead of brief highs in the form of carreer levels, awards and social recognition.
We can live a life based on intrinsic motivation— acting and interacting because we intrinsicly love these activities or see innate value in them. We can be fueled by compassion & gratidude and not hunted by the hollow promise of external rewards.
Being a meaning-making creature in an meaningless universe “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Act carrying not comparing!
Thank you & May you be happy!
“Arthur felt happy. He was terribly pleased that the day was for once working out so much according to plan. Only twenty minutes ago he had decided he would go mad, and now here he was already chasing a Chesterfield sofa across the fields of prehistoric Earth.”
― Douglas Adams