Toxic Tales come in all shapes and sizes. I’m going to focus in on a very common type in this post. I originally thought of calling it the “Oh You’re Gonna Suffer Stories” but decided to be a little poetic and call them “The Worm in the Apple Stories,” because these nasty little tales burrow into listener’s consciousness and often end up spoiling experiences.
These stories are often personal, although not necessarily the teller’s personal experience. They can also be historical or a bit of a tall tale. The story is aimed at a person or persons preparing to go somewhere or do something, and is presented as a warning or a tale of woe.
Pregnant moms and couples often encounter Worm in the Apple Stories, especially at parties or gatherings. The teller will approach the pregnant woman or couple and launch into an account of something difficult, painful, or terrifying that happened to them or someone else. A bit of drama and emotion is usually part of the mix. It might go something like “My sister tried natural birth and she screamed for 48 hours… or my friend wanted an epidural but nothing worked then she fell off the bed, ripped out her IV lines… You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’ve heard both of those stories told in detail with lots more drama and promised pain.
Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about discussing aspects of birth or sharing birth experiences in a caring and authentic way. These stories are told to get attention, raise emotions or for the enjoyment of the teller. I taught childbirth classes for a couple years and was a doula for decades. Many parents told me about these stories and how it caused them distress. Sometimes the distress manifested as nightmares or self-doubt, other times they became nagging memories that accompanied them to labor or early parenting. And just like a worm in an apple, they damage some of the fruit (experience).
Another example of this type of toxic tale is given when a person or people are going into something new. It might be a planned vacation, starting school, or a new job or adventure. The enthusiastic listeners will hear stories about tragedy, hardship, or sorrow that happened to someone else. I once was told about a shark attack when I was headed for a vacation. The attack happened a decade before and not exactly where I swam, but I found myself checking the water and tensing up at the thought each time I went into the water.
These stories are usually not told to purposely ruin your experience; I believe they are usually told to draw attention. The toxins released by these tales may be minor, although for some, they linger. If you hear someone starting a wormy tale, you can stop them or walk away. If you have heard one of these tales and you’re having trouble shaking off the negative images, seek out positive stories and/or information to put things in a proper prospective.