The Stories We Tell Ourselves

December 13, 2020

Once upon a time, there was a young girl named, ummm. . . . let’s call her Farah. Farah grew up in a happy home surrounded by love, but she just knew something wasn’t right- with her. She tried to keep this “not right” feeling locked up in a little box, and the key to that box was perfection. The more perfect Farah could be, the tighter the lock would get. Farah became an expert at meeting other people’s expectations of her (or rather, she became an expert at meeting what she thought others expected of her). She didn’t get lost in the Big Woods; she knew how to read signs, and she never veered off the path.

Slowly over time, and then seemingly all at once, questions started popping up. People- professors, new friends, even Farah herself- started asking things like, “What do you want to do?” and “How do you feel about that?” and that’s when Farah realized that she didn’t have all the answers. She spent so much time and energy listening outside of herself that she lost her ability to hear her voice within. She didn’t really know who she was or what she wanted. And she couldn’t really remember how to ask for help. On top of that, bad things kept happening regardless of how perfectly locked up her “not right” feelings were. To make up for the silence inside, Farah told herself a new story; this one was called the “Not Good Enough” story. It was extremely portable and suited any number of situations- from “Not Smart Enough” to “Not Attractive Enough” and even into “I Don’t Deserve it” territory.

Farah’s new story, and the memories of her old stories, kept her from truly enjoying her “Happily Ever After” when it came along (the handsome prince, a “castle” on a cul de sac, and beautiful children of her own). It wasn’t a Big, Bad Wolf or an Evil Queen- it was the tale itself that got in her way. And it wasn’t the needle on a spinning wheel, or even a deeply restorative sleep that brought Farah to her senses- it was Life. Big, Messy, Life. Where Bad Things Happen. . . and then what?? What happens after the “Happily (or Not So Happily) Ever”?

However, whenever Life brings you here- a loss (or a gain), a time of transition, a feeling of uncertainty about what comes next- you can start by asking yourself, “What is my story?” What is it that you keep telling yourself about yourself? Coax it to come out by acknowledging that whatever the story is, it existed to keep you safe (it’s gotten you this far, hasn’t it?), and it most likely was created when you were younger and simply learning to make sense of the world around you. Aim for awareness and understanding– gratitude and compassion can come later.

Next, ask yourself, “What am I getting out of the story that I am holding on to so closely? Take three deep breaths and see if you can listen to your “voice within” and not just to all the thoughts racing in your mind. This isn’t an easy question to figure out- our defenses, our ego, will be kicking into overdrive to protect us and “keep us safe.” Even when that “safety” is really just a comfortable, familiar way of suffering. . . Why be vulnerable and truly see how little control we have over, well, pretty much EVERYTHING, when we can just stay here all nice and cozy with the self-doubt and self-sabotage we’re so very good at inflicting on ourselves?

Whatever shows up as your answer- sit with it. It’s going to reveal something about your thoughts and beliefs that will probably have some strong emotions attached to it. Aye, there’s the rub- our emotions that we try so hard to avoid, repress, lessen, will resist all our attempts to assert control. In the end, letting go of control and allowing those strong feelings to exist is the only way to move forward. Don’t add suffering to your pain; allow yourself to feel the pain. The only way through it is through it. Know that you are not alone. Our common humanity binds us together on this journey.

Now, instead of just sitting with whatever shows up, ask yourself, “What do I need?” Can you move with your feelings? Rock back and forth, hug yourself, take a walk, kick or punch pillows, shake it off- embody your emotions and use the wisdom of your physical body to release all that energy you spent trying to cover up the fact that you are human and have feelings (and that not being in control is scary). Feel like shouting or crying, screaming or laughing? Go for it.

This is an awful lot to process and experience. If you need to take a break, or a nap, give yourself permission to do so. Call a friend, one who will listen without judgment and without giving advice. There’s freedom waiting in this new place, with this new clarity- freedom to choose a different story. You can feel exposed and vulnerable and powerful and hopeful, all at the same time. Over and over again. Why not choose a story for yourself of love and hope and forgiveness? Of strength and courage and even happiness?

A New Year is coming. Time for a new story. Choose freedom from your old story and find the joy of living fully as your flawed and beautiful, beautiful self.

Peace, love, and hope to you all-

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