We all have those stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, the ones we've been telling ourselves for years about who we are, why we have the experiences we have, what explains the things that happen to us, and how our pasts have influenced our current lives. Sometimes these stories are positive, as in "I've been through so much and I've come out the other side a stronger person" or "I'm a really great friend" and others are not so positive, such as 'I've always been lonely" or "I'm not creative."These stories inevitably stem from actual experiences we've had, whether having our attempts to be creative criticized or from repeatedly being told that we're a good friend, but whether positive or negative, our personal narratives never tell the entire story of who we are. You may be a great friend much of the time, but there are times when you've not been; you may have felt a lot of loneliness in your life but there have been lots of times when you've felt connected, too.
In going through some struggles recently, I've been tuning in to the main negative stories I've developed about myself, which basically fall under the category of "self-pity": "People just don't seem to want to connect with me", "There must be something wrong with me because I haven't been in a relationship that lasted longer than a few years", and "Because I don't have a Grand Passion in my life - a driving desire that outshines everything else - I'm flawed, boring, and/or unworthy." When I've been in that dark place, I see myself replaying those old stories in my head, and they run like well-oiled machinery, with hardly any effort, just a slight push. It's like watching a movie I've seen a thousand times; I know what the next scene will be, and the next, and the next. Who needs Netflix?
Predictably, when I allow those stories free rein inside my head, they drive my dark mood. Pretty obvious, right?
But these stories can be difficult to stop, even when we want to. They're like old friends, ones who aren't really that good for us but with whom we feel at ease and comfortable, ones we would never consider backing away from, because, after all, we've known them for years.
And the thing about negative self-stories is that even if we ask friends and loved ones for help in debunking them, reassurance only works temporarily. Lots of people have attempted to talk me out of my stories, from friends, to lovers, to therapists, and I just keep going back to them the way an addict will go back to their substance when under stress. There's something oddly comforting about these sad stories, even if they make us feel bad in the long run.
To change our stories, we need to engage with them, to dialogue with them and to gently, consistently, and persistently change the way the narrative goes. In my case, that would mean reminding myself that I do have wonderful, close friends, that I have had a great many adventures and learning experiences on my romantic path, and that my genius might just be that I'm open and flexible the way someone with a Grand Passion may not be. Or maybe that Life is my Grand Passion, rather than a particular, limited calling.
What are some of the harmful stories you tell about yourself, and how could you rewrite those stories to be more supportive and nurturing of who you really are?
Here are some techniques for rewriting your story:
- Write a dialogue between the storyteller and other parts of yourself, for instance your inner child, inner god/goddess, protector, or other aspects of yourself that seem called to discuss the story with your inner storyteller.
- Pretend your inner story is a book and you're in a book group discussing it. What do you think about it? The plot? The dialogue? Is it believable? Is it well-written? Could it be more nuanced?
- With a trusted friend (or more than one), wrtie down your inner negative stories and then hand them to each other to rewrite, given what you know and love about each other.
- Listen to your inner story as if you, yourself, were your best friend. How might you rewrite it if someone you cared about told you that was their story?
- Pretend the story is being made into a movie. What genre of movie would it be? Who would play the main characters? Make it melodramatic and over-the-top. Have fun with it. What would the title and tag line be? What would the movie trailer look like?