How to Unravel The Stories That Run Your Life – And Write a New One
Which one are you?
Miranda dreamed of marrying “Mr. Right.” She thought she found him, they married, but the marriage did not last. He seriously betrayed her in a number of ways.
Miranda was devastated when the precious “story” of her happy married life didn’t work out.
Tina, although attracted to the story of meeting Mr. Right and living happily ever after, saw that for what it was: a “story.”
Her practical approach allowed her to weather ups and downs and focus on forming a fulfilling and enduring relationship.
We’ve all probably been both of them.
Growing up, both Miranda and Tina* – like you and I – were on the receiving end of one of the many ‘stories’ that children absorb as they grow up about how to live, how to love and how to go about one’s life.
- fairytales (for example, Prince Charming and the Disney princesses)
- the popular culture stories we ingested (for example, how “real” men and women behave)
- the family and peer worlds we were raised in
Even though we may not be aware of the impact of these stories, they shape how we experience relationships and personal success. They live in our physical bodies, they affect our emotions and our resilience and ability to endure stress. They impact how we feel about our own bodies as well as other’s bodies. And they readily impact our health and well-being because they are carried in our energy fields both through how we perceive the world and how we project ourselves into the worlds we live in.
What story did you internalize from your family-of-origin and from your childhood about how to love another?
How is that working out for you now that you are adult?
What story from your family-of-origin and your childhood framed what success in adulthood would look like?
How is that shaping up in your adulthood?
The answer to these questions points to the value of unraveling these personal-origin stories from their hidden recesses deep in our mind and memory because doing so gives you the freedom to decide which stories you will live by in order to experience more happiness, love, and intimacy.
Complicating matters is that we are in the middle of a major cultural change about how we experience love; both within ourselves (commonly referred to as self-esteem) and in our relationships. From changes to gender roles, to the #metoo movement, to the campaigns for LGBTQIA rights, to racial injustice and beyond.
The result is that many of the stories we live by that were absorbed years ago when we were young, are outdated because the wider culture has changed.
A classic example are traditional gender roles.
If you’re a boomer or gen-Xer, you remember this one: Men were the providers for the family and women were the homemakers; men brought home the bacon and women cooked it up.
This gender-role based story was exposed for its limitations within feminist circles some decades ago, but not before a generation of women discovered that the story they were raised with that indicated fulfillment would only come if they were a successful homemaker, was – once they reached adulthood and the wider cultural had changed – no longer the case.
Some of the women who lived through this cultural cusp tell stories of personal liberation over narrow gender role prescriptions. Other stories are more tragic, like Miranda’s, of women suffering through the realization that the story they had lived by was no longer true for them and they were having trouble generating a new story to live by.
The good news is that our stories can be re-written in a way where we have a choice.
We can keep what’s in alignment with our values and how we want to live; discard what no longer serves us and design a new story for a life that is alive, relevant and full of possibility.
A first step in this process is to uncover the dominant themes of the stories you live by, the metaphors and messages they contain and use them as an agent to change your beliefs. From those new beliefs you can rewrite your story and change your energy and thus your life.
Here are a couple of examples of how I work with clients to alter their story:
Bonnie (not her real name) declared that, “I want to love myself and feel confident with who I am and the work I do. But that feels so narcissistic and arrogant to say that I matter, that I am loved and I am amazing.”
With Bonnie, I examined the messages that her parents and extended family gave her that impacted her sense of self-worth. We saw that in her family, there was a strong belief that “children should be seen and not heard” and that boys were valued more than girls. The two stories converged, leaving a largely unconscious message that it was morally wrong to celebrate her successes as a female and that she was unworthy of such attention.
These stories had served to constrict Bonnie’s life energy, cutting off the well-springs of health and making her unable to sustain a feeling of joy. After identifying these strictures and understanding how they had impacted her emotional life, her expectations and how she ran her energy in relationships, I helped her create a new story that was more liberating and empowered her confidence and ability to live and love.
Here’s another case.
Margaret declared, “If something awesome happens in my life, either by chance or something I worked really hard for, I’m waiting for the ‘other shoe to drop’ and to take it all away from me. I am so nervous that this will happen that it keeps me from working toward my goals in both love and career because I assume it will be taken from me if I achieve it and that will be heartbreaking.”
As I worked with Margaret, she recognized that her fears had generated a downward spiral of sadness. She was so certain that any success would follow with loss that she never risked much of anything, both in love and work, leaving her sad and unfulfilled. Together, we uncovered the stories that circulated through her family based on real familial hardship and devastating loss that had become ingrained in her mind as a child, to such a degree that she concluded: ‘bad things always happen after good things happen, so avoid anything happening.’ Once these self-limiting stories were identified, then Margaret was free to form a new story that allowed for success and that didn’t require that “the other shoe will drop.”
In my work, I have discovered that the wider world of stories and myths are actually full of themes of empowerment, well-being, wisdom and love, but you have to look for them! They provide a counter-point and a valuable resource to help clients create new stories to live by.
*These are made-up names representing typical cases.