“The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.” ~Pema Chodron
Too often we let stories from our past define us. We tell them over and over to ourselves and to others until it becomes our truth. What if, without deviating from actual facts, we choose to tell different stories? What if these new stories could bring us more freedom and strength?
Below are some true facts about my own life. I'll follow each one with the stories I could be telling myself about each one, followed by the story I choose to go with.
Fact Number One
My father abused my teenage mother when she was pregnant with me and left us when I was just a few days old. I’ve never seen him again.
The stories I could be telling myself now:
Men are bad.
Men can't be trusted.
The reason I can't hold on to a relationship is because my father left me.
The true story I choose to go with:
They were young. He felt trapped and scared. His fears drove him to behave very badly. He had his own issues from his own childhood.
It sucks, but it doesn't define me or shape my views of men or myself.
If I'd held onto the negative self talk or views about men, it could have prevented me from being the happy, loving, loved person I am today.
Fact Number Two
In my tween / teen years my mother worked nights in a factory and I didn't see her before or after school. There was never a parent attending my school music and sporting events or awards presentations and I found my own way home afterward, often walking back in the dark, freezing cold winters of Minnesota.
I got myself up and to school on time, oversaw my own homework, dinner, and bedtimes, and often that of my younger brother too.
The story I could be telling:
My mother didn't care about me. She was irresponsible. She put me in danger and neglected my needs.
I have to fend for myself in this world or nobody else will. I need to look out for number one. This is why I'm lonely. This is why I never succeeded. I was handed a bum deal compared to my friends. I could have made more of my life if I'd felt supported and had good guidance at pivotal stages of my youth.
The story I choose to go with:
My mother was doing the best she could with what she had.
Being very independent from a young age taught me responsibility.
I’m truly motivated to be present in the lives of my own children, attending their events, encouraging and offering guidance. The past has made me a better mother.
Fact Number Three
The boyfriend I fell madly in love with in my twenties verbally and physically abused me until I was finally hospitalized with cracked ribs. I gave up my career and possessions in California to move to London to be with him. I knew nobody except his friends.
The stories I could be telling myself now:
History repeats itself. I was abused because my father abused my mother.
I deserved it for being such an idiot.
I'm not worthy of proper love and respect.
Men are all assholes.
The story I choose:
I didn't know my boyfriend well enough before I moved abroad to be with him. I felt unable to move back to the U.S. as I'd given up my job, home, car and life there. I continued to stay with him for too long out of fear and ignorance.
I'm smarter now. I learned what I don't want in a relationship and it enabled me to recognize what I do want and to find it. I'm stronger and I know myself now. I love myself. I am worthy.
Do you know anybody who's been dealt a crappy deck and now tells the first kinds of stories? Do they blame past circumstances for their present life? Do they begrudge the people who have mistreated them?
Which stories from your past do you tell yourself and others over and over? Are these stories helping you or holding you back?
Rewriting the script in your head isn't easy, especially if you've been telling it for a very long time.
Here are some ways to begin to dump the old stories and replace them with new ones.
1. Recognize when you're telling them and press your mental pause button. Stop giving it fuel.
2. Write down the fact, as I’ve done above, then the story you're presently telling. Now write a more positive interpretation of it. What good has come out of it? What have you learned? How would it feel if you dropped the old story and told a new one? Explore this on paper and see what it brings up.
3. Use EFT Tapping. Emotional Freedom Technique is effective for bringing your story to the surface, getting real about your feelings, then changing the narrative about it. For deep rooted stuff, work with a qualified EFT practitioner.
4. Practice “loving what is.” Have a notebook handy as you read the book Loving What Is by Bryron Katie. Write your answers to her four powerful questions. It only works when you do the work. This book single-handedly healed my relationship with my mother.
Self-limiting beliefs often stem from stories you’re clinging onto that aren’t serving you. They hold you back from true happiness and success.
Begin to bring a gentle awareness to these stories and see if you can give them new meaning. It isn’t about forgetting your past and making things up. It’s about choosing to tell the truth in a less victimizing and more empowering way.