Do you ever feel stuck? Like no matter what you do, you can’t get out of your own way? That you were dealt the short stick in life? That there are too many obstacles in your way? That things just don’t work out for you? If this is happening to you, it’s possible that you have created a “story” for yourself and you’ve gotten stuck in it’s web.
We all have a story or stories. Something that has made us who we are today. We cling to it tightly and carry it with us everywhere we go. We use it to explain why we are the way we are and why we say the things that we do and why we can’t do certain things. We use it to protect ourselves from pain. We use it to continue doing behaviors that don’t serve us. Our stories formed in order to serve us in some way – it’s possible that the did help us at one time, but they may not be serving us now.
What’s your story? Think you don’t have one? Sure you do – most of us have at least one (and some of us have many). How do you know what yours are?
What does a story sound/look like?
Think about the recurring thoughts about yourself that you’ve had throughout your life. The ones you may not say out loud to anyone else but have thought over and over again. The ones that have influenced almost every decision you’ve ever made. The ones you might have only shared with your closest friend. The ones you wrote down in your journal. It might be one long detailed story that originated from a specific event or it might be little bits and pieces of things that were said to you that you came to believe were who you are.
I’ll tell you some of mine:
(some of these are past stories that are no longer true for me, others are still a part of my internal dialogue)
I’m the fat girl. I’m lazy. I’m so awkward. I never finish what I start. I’ll never meet a guy who I like as much as he likes me. I’ll never meet a guy who likes me as much as I like him. I don’t have what it takes to start my own business. I’m not as smart as I think I am – there’s no way I could get through grad school! I’ll never be able to just eat without thinking about my weight. My stomach is so disgusting. I’m physically strong. I’m meant to do more than sit a desk and type and answer phones all day. I’m funny.
Maybe you don’t identify with mine but here are some other really common ones:
- I’m not good enough.
- I’ll never have/get what I need.
- I’ll always struggle with __________.
- I don’t deserve to ____________.
- I can’t do __________ because people will think__________ about me.
Do any of these sound or feel familiar? Notice most of them are negative. If you rely heavily on your “story” or if you tend to feel stuck a lot – I’ll bet that most of yours are too.
Why do we create stories for ourselves?
In so many ways, our stories developed as a way for us to make sense of a situation or to protect us from something in our lives. Some of the things our stories protect us from are certainly real threats, for example, someone who has been mugged may worry about going out at night alone and might buy mace to protect themselves. Their story (I’ve been mugged – it’s dangerous out there) is protecting them from what is a legitimate threat. But most of our stories are protecting us from things that we believe are real threats but may not be. In many ways, our stories keep us living in or fearing the past or prevent us from taking risks, being vulnerable or pushing out of our comfort zone. Some of us make our stories such a big part of us that others can see them within a few minutes of meeting us. Have you ever met someone and quickly got the vibe that they had really low self esteem or that they have lots of bad stuff happen to them? It’s because they’re living their stories in such a big way that it becomes almost a flag that they wave around.
Understanding their purpose
My beliefs that I wasn’t smart enough for grad school or that I didn’t have what it took to start a business were my subconscious way of protecting myself from taking risks – saving face! The thinking was: What if I failed? If you don’t try, you can’t fall flat on your face right??? It’s better to not try at all. My beliefs about not finding someone who could love me and vice versa stopped me from having to take an active role in my dating life. If I believed that it was impossible to find someone with an equal interest in me then I had no responsibility to put myself out there (ironically this post is going live on my 4th wedding anniversary – I killed that story!). Believing that I’ll never be able to eat without worrying about my weight, kept me from exercising and allowed me to continue eating foods and in quantities that made my weight remain an issue. I thought these stories were serving me. I thought they were protecting me. But they were protecting me from even giving things a go! There came a point where these stories were causing me more pain than protection. That’s when I knew these stories had to be let go of.
Alternatively, my belief that I’m strong (whose beginnings were cultivated by pulling older my sisters around our neighborhood in a radio flyer wagon as a little kid) has allowed me to become strong. I never turn down an opportunity to lift a heavier weight, or do one more pushup or carry a big box. When men kindly have offered to do something for me because it was heavy and I’m a girl, I decline – not to be rude or because I’m a feminist – but because I’ve learned to take great pride in my physical strength (and I enjoy it). When I worked for the Department of Housing in college, my coworkers always volunteered to carry furniture into the dorms with me. Why? Because I made the work easy – I was able to carry more weight than anyone. I love this story and love how it makes me push me forward still. I know part of the reason I clung to the strong story was that it was protection from the fat label (sure I was fat but I was also strong!) but even as I’ve shed the “fat” label the strong story has always been a positive thing. This story is serving me. This story acts like a teacher who encourages and fosters growth and pushes me to be who I can be. Stories like this can stick around because they’re giving me results that I’m benefiting from.
Keep it or let it go?
How do you know if it’s time to put a story down or let it stick around? First off, you need to know where your story came from. Write this stuff down. You may think you don’t know where your story originated but I’ll bet with a few minutes of journaling you can come up with 2 or 3 memories about that story. Once you know how it was created, ask yourself how was it serving you? What was it protecting you from? And then, how is it serving you now? Do you like how it is serving you? Do you like the results you are getting from staying in your story? If yes, keep it, encourage it, grow it. If you don’t like how it is serving you or if you don’t like the outcome it is bringing, then you know it’s time to put it down. If you feel stuck and like you aren’t moving forward, then your story is probably getting in the way.
Fears of letting go
Some of you may see that it’s time to let go of something but fear putting an unhelpful story down. I get it. We think that by no longer living in our story daily, it will mean that what we’ve gone through isn’t important or that we won’t be who we are, or that our worst fears will come true if we stop believing something (If I believe I can eat normally, I’ll gain 50 lbs! If I stop blaming others for my lot in life then what if I still can’t get what I need? etc). But putting down your story or letting go doesn’t mean any of that. If your story keeps you from taking responsibility, you’re putting all power for change in someone else’s hands and you’ll stay exactly where you are.
Your past experiences happened – no one can take them away from you (good or bad) -and they absolutely affect the fabric of who we become (but we have a choice in what we do with the experience going forward). Our past is our past and it does not need to be our future. Sometimes we keep our stories held so tightly because they keep us connected to someone who is no longer with us or no longer in our lives but I promise you, that your connection to that person exists even if you put the story down.
And guess what? Because these stories are a part of who we are, even if we put them down and begin believing something that serves us better (believing that you can eat normally and that you can lose weight, or believing that you are good enough and will have enough), if we don’t like the results or don’t feel safe there – we can always pick the story back up again! It all goes back to how it is serving you. If you are honest with yourself, you will know if the story is worth pick up again. Is it bringing you more pain to believe or live in your story? Is it preventing you from doing things that will help you grow? Only you can answer these things and you have the choice to stay in your story or not.
Which will help you get closer to the life you want to have – staying in your story or beginning a new one? If your story is causing you great pain but you want to continue it, ask yourself why you are choosing to bring yourself pain? Questions like these can help you determine what to do and can make a huge difference in stepping forward into the person you want to be.