I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the stories we tell ourselves.
Specifically, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
I’ve listened to a lot of friends’ and family members’ stories recently, and it’s got me thinking about the power of the narratives we build about ourselves in our own minds. Those stories can turn almost anything into the truth, because we live the life we believe to be true about ourselves.
That’s a lot of power to give a story.
I’ve seen that power at work in my own life. There have been times when I’ve spun a narrative about myself in my head that was true, but depressing. It’s easy to find those sorts of stories to tell ourselves, because of course, bad things have happened to all of us, we’ve all made bad decisions, we’ve all experienced loss.
But by focusing on the victim/fool/bereaved narratives in our lives, we give power to those stories. Those stories become who we are.
As a survivor of multiple sexual assaults whose career has been derailed over and over by the classic forces of gender bias in our society, I could narrate a bitter and dissatisfied story for myself. Sometimes I’ve fallen into that trap, and it has led only to anger, depression and despair. It has given immense power to those negative experiences of the past.
It is better by far to narrate a story of resilience, support, love, and surprising opportunities. Because those things have been a part of my life too, and they make a much better story to live in. By building a positive story in my mind, I wrest power away from the negative. I actually increase my happiness and my strength by reminding myself that it’s always been there, even at the worst of times. My internal narrative can include those bad things, but focus on how they helped me grow, how I used the negative as inspiration for change, how the negative highlights the positive in life.
It’s not that I believe we shouldn’t tell those stories of injustice or pain in our own lives. As a society, we can’t shove that stuff under the rug and not address it. We can’t pretend it doesn’t happen.
But as an individual, I can acknowledge all the shit of life and still build a positive narrative to tell myself about myself.
Is it easy? No, not always. But it’s easier if I focus on the present. It’s easier if I look to the future. It’s easier if I focus on the things that are within my scope of influence. It’s easier if I refuse to label myself in any way—labels so often come with negativity or expectations that we may or may not want to meet. Labels encourage defeatism—oh, I’m just X, so there’s nothing I can do about it.
So in my story about myself, I am not a middle-aged woman. I am not a mother. I am not a wife. I am not a writer. I am instead, a person with certain skills, likes and dislikes who engages in many different activities which bring me joy. I am a person who is still learning and growing, and my story focuses on my core values and how I live them.
And every morning I get up and live my story.
What story do you tell yourself about yourself?