Our stories about our past define us. How we make sense of the things that have happened to us, both in the way we think about it ourselves, and also how we retell it to others, has the power to trap or transform us.
Today I want to have a look at what impact our stories might have on us, especially if they are fractured and unexamined.
I love this quote by Elie Wiesel - ‘God made man because He loves stories.’
Whether we realize it or not we are all natural storytellers, because that’s how we make sense of what’s happened in our lives. It’s also how we communicate it to others.
It’s really helpful to understand that our personality is basically our life story and the best way to know someone is to listen to how they tell the story of their life.
Bearing witness to story has served me well over the years both as a therapist and in my own self-development because instead of looking for what’s wrong with my clients, it’s allowed us both to understand that it’s ‘how’ we tell our story that either keeps us stuck, or allow us to move forward, regardless of what has happened to us.
When you look at the elements of a story you’ll find a plot, the components of which are woven together over time. You’ll also find characters including a protagonist and supporting characters.
A really good story may have a narrator, and will often have a hero, a villain and a sage. It has a setting where it all takes place. I think you’ll agree that it also needs to make sense and flow well.
Think about your own life story. A series of chapters, settings, and characters -whom you impacted and who impacted you. In this story, how you portray yourself and the world around you is indeed who you are, it’s how you identify as you, it’s your identity.
The important thing to understand it that these stories are a reflection of all the messages you’ve received from yourself, your family and your society about who you are and what the world is like.
How do you caste yourself in your stories? Are you a hero, a warrior, a villain or a victim?
Personality psychologist and researcher Dan McAdams says that what happens to us is of less consequence than how we describe it.
Regardless of the sad or hurtful things that happened, if our narratives also include appreciation and hope, we tend to be happier and more at peace.
Those whose stories are disjointed and confused tend to struggle, and they connect less deeply with themselves and others. It’s important then, that we create a life story that makes sense and flows well.
The good news is, since we are the authors of our life story we can at any time choose to change it.
That doesn’t mean that we live in denial of the horrible things that have happened to us and make everything out to be rosy, but it may mean recognizing how early events in your life cast you in a role that’s impeding your ability to live an honest and satisfying life.
I have witnessed countless clients who were abused as children, recognize how they keep themselves stuck by continuing to cast themselves as helpless victims in their life story.
Their need to protect themselves from the people who were out to hurt them was valid and necessary at the time of the abuse, but it became their whole modus operandi, tainting all the chapters that followed, always and unconsciously looking for potential danger.
Exploring further they often saw how deeply it impacted their relationships; from being mistrustful of people who were actually out to help them and emotionally unavailable to partners who wished to love them, for fear of being hurt again.
So how do you think behaviour that once served you well, might be getting in the way for you now?
Even if we weren’t deeply traumatized, none of us has escaped unscathed and all of us have some form of core wound that shows up consistently in our life stories. They‘re caused by experiences in our family, at school or with our friends and partners.
What’s helpful to know is these wounds tend to be on the periphery of our awareness, yet they have the power to fool us into believing that the way we perceive things is the ‘absolute truth’ as opposed to just being our unique perspective of the way things are based on our past experiences.
If we ignore them or try and push them away they come back much stronger. If we don’t take the time to look at them, we’ll be forever stuck in our old story.
The most loving and healing thing we can do for ourselves it to bear witness to our pain, and to accept any shameful things we did as being a result of it.
We can choose to learn from it, forgive ourselves and to go forward, acting in ways that reflect the new role we have chosen for ourselves.
An important thing to keep in mind when choosing to move from a victim stance to a more self-empowered stance is to realize is that actually both of these roles have boundaries, but they look very dissimilar. I hope you’ll join me next week and we’ll explore how different they are!
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