Everyone has a story. This is the story we tell our friends when we’re sad. This is the story we tell our therapists about our lives. This is the story we tell ourselves about why we are the way that we are–we’re the children of a broken home, we were abused as children, we were the product of single parents, we were born poor and on and on.
These stories, while largely legitimate, have an enormous amount of power over how we view ourselves, our abilities, our successes and our failures. These stories are often as true as we know them to be but often they lack an element of truth because we forget or we have stopped remembering who we really are. These stories help us to determine the things we value as well as the things we are vulnerable to.
When we meet people whose stories are disempowering for whatever reasons, it’s easy to see that they don’t value themselves. It may be in the way they walk, talk or treat themselves. It may be in the tone of voice that they use, the goals that they have set that far undervalue their worth and the way they avoid reaching for things they could have. These may sound like low self-esteem, no self-confidence, no/low strength of character, goals or pride and even if this is the manifestation of those things, they are being maintained by the stories that they have told and continue to tell themselves.
If you tell yourself that nobody loves you and you’re not worthy of someone’s time, your actions will convey to them that you’re wasting their time; you won’t ask for a favor or you will issue 1200 caveats explaining why you don’t think you deserve to ask. These are all blaring signals that your story is doing you a disservice.
Another thing that give these stories power over us is that we believe them wholeheartedly. There rarely is a doubt as to the accuracy/truth in the stories that we tell ourselves. We sometimes wear it as a badge of honor that we have these terrible stories to tell because they demonstrate our role as survivors. It makes us feel entitled in that we have earned our right to be miserable, to not trust others, to not take risks and to not be happy because after all, we have been through so much. We have been through so much and we’re here NOW in this moment. Those experiences show our potential to overcome, not just to survive. It should have built our character and encouraged the development of a new, fresh outlook. The truth is we no longer need to hold on to those stories and pull them out like war medals. We know we’ve earned those medals but that does not and should not keep us back. Never forget from where you’ve come but don’t just stand there. Choose to keep moving forward.
Because the story is yours, you can change it, revise it, give it a new ending. These stories have defined you as an individual, so who are you now? Based on your stories, you may not even be really sure, but think about many of the lies in those stories that have helped to mold who you think you are. When you re-craft your stories, you can choose who you really are who will you become.
On a personal note, I have always loved to write. I remember writing poems in elementary school and keeping a 5 subject notebook of poems in high school that I lost on a plane. Throughout college, I wrote tons of poems, short stories and began a memoir. I have stories from writing classes that I still impress me now when I read them. Yet, when I entered graduate school with tons of ideas for research and articles I encountered someone who told me that I could not write. For two years, I had that pounded into my head until I began to believe it. I struggled for the next few years writing only when I had to because I honestly believed that I could not write. I developed a dislike for writing and all things written, I feared presenting any written work to anyone because I just knew that it was terrible. I began to feel that my advisor was just trying to make me feel better when he said my writing was good, when my friends said it, I knew they were just being my friends. I told myself that I could not write, was a bad writer and would do everything to avoid writing. The truth was, I took his statements to mean that I was a bad student, I did not know what I was doing, I could never be good and that I was a failure. I let his statements change who I knew I was. I knew I was a good writer. Maybe I hadn’t mastered academic writing and probably never would like the thousands of academics who are still trying to perfect their craft, but at that time and for years, that defined me. I didn’t deserve to be in graduate school, I didn’t deserve to be a doctor of anything, I wasn’t good enough. From then, I read writing books and asked for advice from anyone with a pen, but still held onto that story.
Today, my passion to help others has overridden my fears of writing and so I am doing my best as I work to change my story. I know that I will never be the best writer in the world, and academic writing may not be my cup of tea (as the scars are still there) but I will always strive to convey the information that the world needs to the best of my ability. I will become a better writer with time and I won’t stop writing regardless of what others think. I will do and be my best in spite of my experiences. My gifts and talents serve a purpose–to support my passion and that’s what guides me.
My tip for taming the story:
Examine your heart and what feels true to you. Your intuition is always there to help and allows you to know when something is right for you. Listen carefully and trust it.