Storytelling has been our humanity since we first learned to speak and draw on the walls of caves. If you think about it, magazines articles, news broadcasts, even financial reports, tell stories. We are constantly telling and hearing stories every day.
Even if you were loved, nurtured, never wanted for anything, and had the best parents, no one makes it out of childhood without being hurt. As children we were vulnerable. We were like sponges soaking up everything we saw, heard and felt.
So impressionable were we as children, we wove the spotty flashes of love, pain, joy, and neglect we experienced into memories that form the foundation of who we are as adults. As as lousy as it may seem, we were at the mercy of people who were bigger than us, who were simply passing onto us the stories they learned in their childhoods.
We spend most of our adult lives reliving the skipping record of our childhood memories.
WE TELL OUR STORIES TO FIND OUR PLACE IN THE WORLD
We tell our stories to transform ourselves; to share our history; to rise above our experiences; to help others and make a difference in our world; to broaden our perspective; to move beyond a story that may have imprisoned or enslaved us; to live more of our potential.
Telling our stories is a way to release ourselves from our limitations, to move and grow beyond them.
BUT OUR STORIES ALSO HOLD US BACK
There is, however, a line over which telling our stories to heal and allowing our stories to hold us back, can be crossed. When we identify with the stories we tell ourselves and use them as proof of why we can’t move ahead in our lives (I’m too fat to apply for the job, I’m not worthy of his love, I’m not good enough to call myself a writer, etc.) our stories are holding us back.
Difficulties arise not because we have a story, perhaps a very sad or painful story, but because we become attached to that story and make it an essential part of our selves. The kinds of stories I’m talking about are the ones that define us, give us our identity, and by telling them, they become how we are known.
Some stories trap us into thinking certain things about ourselves, and eventually we become our story. I often use this story to illustrate this point:
When I was 10, my mother questioning that I could write the story of how Halloween began from my own imagination, was enough make me believe I wasn’t worthy of writing creative stories. I bought into the story that I couldn’t follow my burgeoning dream of being a creative writer, that I needed to settle for working in marketing and communications.
Ultimately, it is our choice whether we use our stories as catapults to propel ourselves to the next level, or as lead weights to keep ourselves from climbing out of the box we’ve been placed in.
WE BECOME THE STORY WE TELL OURSELVES
As children, our little sponge brains didn’t know how to reason. We created stories to understand our circumstances. As we got older, we turned stories into beliefs. It is through that lens of belief that we filter the past and edit the future to prove we are right about ourselves. We delete any details that don’t match up with our story. Before we know it, we carry around layers upon layers of “proof” of who we are, like a suit of armour that both protects and impedes us at the same time.
It’s important to remember our stories are a fiction. Life is not a story, even if we bend our perception to believe it is. If I scan through old journal entries, there isn’t the same definable story that I sense from my memory. My old journals are just a jumble of random thoughts and waves of happiness and frustration. I pieced together all those jumbles into the greatest work of fiction I ever told myself.
Recognizing that our stories are a fiction we created while trying to make sense of what happened to us in our lives, gives us the flexibility to rewrite our story.
The more we remember something, the less accurate the memory becomes.
ARE YOU IN A STORY RUT?
Think of the stories we tell ourselves as a car driving down an icy road. In order to stay safe, we drive in the same ruts that everyone else drives in to prevent ourselves from losing control. We stay in the ruts because it’s the safest place to be.
The stories we tell about ourselves are very similar. They become ruts that feel safer to stay in than to take a new road to a new destination. After a while, the story we tell ourselves becomes so normalized that we don’t even realize that we’re in a rut and that other possibilities exist.
WHAT IS YOUR STORY KEEPING YOU FROM?
Hallelujah! I finally realized that I had been telling myself a fiction of not being worthy of being a creative writer – and plenty of others – all through adolescence and into adulthood. So many of these stories were wrapped in layers of shame and guilt and I couldn’t bring myself to revisit them. It wasn’t until I spoke them aloud – holding them to the light – that their weight was lifted from me and I began to see that they weren’t true.
The beautiful thing about this realization is that I finally get to write my stories to suit who I really am NOW.
I’m ready to pick up a pen and write the plot I want my new stories to follow. I don’t have to prescribe to anyone else’s beliefs or expectations, or even my own limiting beliefs from the past. I can craft my life with fullness, sensuality, inspiration, openheartedness, and thankfulness. My new story will undoubtedly be less than perfect, and filled with plot twists, setbacks, and victories – but it will be entirely my own.
READY TO WRITE YOUR NEW LIFE STORY?
What are your self-sabotaging stories – those myths you keep telling yourself that prevent you from pursuing what you really want? Get clear on what each story is saying to you.
Imagine how you can rewrite your story, suiting it to who you are now. You might find it helpful to work with someone you can trust – a friend, life partner, or coach.
Write, write, write and talk, talk, talk it through – until you believe your new stories.
Go. Create. Live!
I found this beautiful TED Talk about how we can still our mind chatter and find our way to writing new stories: