Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Throughout each day we narrate a story to ourselves, organizing our experiences and thoughts. The stories we tell ourselves serve us in some way or another, even if we don't realize it. Once we can recognize how our story serves us, we can decide if it is really benefiting us or not. It's a good first step in self-development. And we are better able to appreciate our story and let it go. It takes a lot of practice and self-honesty to figure out how our story is serving us. (read more about “stories” here)
What do I mean when I say your story is serving you?
Most of our thoughts and behaviors come from a place of protection and trying to get our needs met. Take the example of feeling threatened. We all respond to threats differently. One person might jump into the “fight” mode while someone else turns to the “flight” mode. Why? Most likely, at some point in life, each person found their respective responses kept them feeling safe.
If you grew up in a family where your parents were busy or distracted and the only way
you could get their attention was through being really loud and obnoxious, then being loud and obnoxious served your need to be seen and heard. In a different situation, someone with an abusive parent might have felt safer if they weren’t seen. So, in order to stay off their parent’s radar, they might have learned to be really quiet and keep their feelings to themselves.
Most of the time we don’t even realize what’s going on. It’s only through taking a close, careful look at our stories that we can begin to see what’s really happening. Our stories are so much a part of our lives that we’re usually not even aware that we’re in a story. By asking some deep questions, and giving honest, sometimes painful answers, we can gain a better understanding of why we believe and behave the way we do.
A story that I’m rewriting:
I am a peacekeeper. I hate to see people argue. I've always been careful with my words and do my best to make sure I don't hurt anyone's feelings. These are good things, but I'm realizing that sometimes you have to have those hard conversations. And I'm not good at that. Sometimes I use my "peacekeeper" persona to avoid having difficult, but necessary, conversations.
Conflict, even potential conflict, makes me feel ridiculously uncomfortable. Those feelings scare the hell out of me. I’m aware of this pattern of inaction and I really don’t care for it. I’m at a point in life where I’d rather have those conversations, have my voice be heard, and find some sort of resolution to the problem. But my story is pretty entrenched in my reaction to conflict.
In order to keep the peace and maintain connection with those I love, I must avoid conversations that might cause anyone discomfort. This is because lack of conflict in a relationship is needed to maintain connection. And on top of that, it’s my job to make sure everyone is emotionally comfortable.
My internal conflict:
I find myself with the internal conflict of wanting my voice to be heard and wanting to maintain peace. In order to avoid the fear of conflict with others, I avoid those difficult conversations, and tell myself I am keeping the peace which in turn will maintain or even deepen connections with the person I care for. Ironically, avoiding conflict just separates me from those I crave connecting with.
It has been hard to let go of the story of “no conflict equals connection.” It keeps getting in my way. Why? Because it’s still serving me in some way. I’m going to share with you how I think this story is serving me, but honestly, some of these things are really hard for me to admit. I’m pretty embarrassed about them and I feel foolish and weak. However, I can’t change my story unless I’m willing to face it.
How it serves me:
It keeps me from feeling the discomfort that I feel when I disagree with someone.
It allows me to think I am maintaining connections with others.
I feel like I’m a “selfless and good” person when I worry more about other people’s feelings and opinions.
It keeps me small and quiet, but secretly allows me to feel like a martyr, which in turns can give me a sense of self-righteousness.
Now, if you were to ask me what I want in my relationships, I’d say I want deeper
connection and honesty, and I do want those things. But my story indicates something different. However, because I see the limitations of my story and want honesty and connection, I’m willing to take a deep look into why my words and behavior don’t match up. By doing so, I realize that I am getting something from the story of “no conflict equals connection,” the story does serve me, but it’s just not in the way I want anymore. My desire is to change that story…
What are so common ways in which our stories serve us?
Most of the time, what we gain from our stories can be boiled down to a variation of few things. We have our stories to make us feel:
that we are right
Our stories can also provide a sense of:
understanding (of events, people, etc.)
control and power over our lives
rightness in the world
Once we realize that our story has served us in some way, we can begin to acknowledge it and recognize that it did help us in the past. But often, our past stories were formulated when we had fewer tools and experiences, so it makes sense that past stories might not serve us now. We don’t have to be critical of those past stories, we just need to realize we don't have to be stuck in those past stories. We can rewrite them!
Steps to letting go
Here are some steps to letting go of an old story so you can make room for a new, more empowering story:
1. Honestly look at your story and call it for what it is—just a story. It’s not the truth, it’s not the only way of seeing things or being, it’s just a story.
2. Look carefully at how the story serves you. If this is hard for you, try looking at your story as if you were reading a story about someone else. Or get a friend to help you look at it. Or hire a life coach to help you.
3. Decide if what you get from your story is truly what you want. If not, then keep moving through these steps.
4. Take that story and pretend it’s an entity. Then, tell that story how grateful you are for _____________ (protecting you, making you feel worthy, or however it served you). Acknowledge that it has done a good job in the past at serving you. Thank that story. Tell it what a good job it has done. (I realize this might sound a little corny, but I’m telling you, it’s remarkably powerful).
5. Next, tell your story that you’re at a point in life where you no longer need it to __________ (protect you, make you feel good about yourself, or whatever it’s doing for you). Tell it that you have learned some new tools. You are grown up now and ready to move on. Tell the story that it can rest. It’s done its job and you are now ready to take over.
6. Begin crafting your new story. Choose to align your words and behaviors with your deeper values. This might take some time and your rewrite might need to go through several iterations or edits before you find the story you really want.
8. Give yourself grace. You will most likely fall into your old story many times before your new story takes root. That’s okay, it’s just how it is. When you slip into the old story, stop yourself and begin telling yourself your new narrative.
Are you ready?
So, are you ready to let go of some old stories that are no longer serving you? This work is not for anyone looking for a quick fix. This work is not about giving you a warm, fuzzy feeling. It is work. It can be hard. It might bring up some embarrassment or shame. It will probably be very uncomfortable at times. AND it is amazing! It will allow you to live more authentically. It can help you step into your own power. I can promise you, when you change your story, you change your life!
If you’re curious and want to learn more or would like me to help you understand how your story is serving you, shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)! I welcome all questions and comments.