I find it amazing how we all have an autobiography that we tell, or a personal narrative, but often half of it is operating under the covers out of our awareness. We just can’t imagine why in the heck we have found ourselves in this exact same relationship or situation AGAIN! Even for us therapists who have worked on ourselves for years, for me, I get tripped up.
Most of the time we aren’t conscious of the stories we are telling and aren’t usually motivated to get conscious about them unless they are causing discomfort, grief, anxiety etc., and yet that discomfort can propel us too quickly to fix it, move past it, get over it. While the stories are just artifacts of things we chose to believe with a younger mind and good intent, we are so committed to these narratives that we will continually recreate scenarios that prove these life scripts correct even though we hate how they turn out. They make us feel familiar to ourselves and our human brain wants to grab on to that familiarity and they served us in some way when we first made up the fairytale.
For example, someone who believes “my opinion doesn’t matter” recreates that unwittingly. They probably decide on that story at the wise old age of five. Their brain came up with this conclusion based on a number of inputs. The end result is he or she might become someone who talks a lot, butts in, speaks loudly and doesn’t let another get a word in edge-wise in order to counteract the story. Or same story, different strategy, that person simply chooses never to ever voice an opinion. In both scenarios, that person’s opinion likely will be discounted.
Ironically we tend to pair off and choose a romantic partner who supports our personal story. If my story is “I am going to lose my freedom” we might choose a partner whose story is “I am anxious you will leave” and each will act their part to a tee where the one fearing losing freedom is unpredictable in their availability and the one anxious is smothering and voila, life has proven their story and they fight, get stuck, break up or come in to see me for couples therapy.
There are many different kinds of therapies and practitioners who work with these narratives. Byron Katie talks about challenging the story, spiritual practitioners encourage a dis identification with the self that creates the story, different schools of therapy work with what you think, others work with patterns that keep getting repeated and where they came from so that once you know where it started you can shift it, others work within a self responsibility model or what is happening right now, others look at how the body tells your story….and the list goes on. Whew. I am out of breath naming the myriad of ways that I have received as a client and have practiced as a psychotherapist.
What is incredibly easy to get caught up in, though, is this notion that there should be an end point or a kind of “achievement” one can attain in being rid of negative self beliefs. There is a kind of personal growth determinism in “trying to be the best you” that actually leaves ourselves in the dust. I think the biggest edge in working with anything we do that isn’t working for us is to meet that “thing” with loving acceptance. Why?
If we try to do a disection job with our negative stories then we aren’t afforded the opportunity to feel and experience and notice all the ways “that story” has served us as well as hurts us. By forcing change upon ourself, we get rigid and then aren’t open to any change. We find ourselves using personal growth or even our own personal therapy to further get away from what we actually need to meet inside ourselves and be curious about. What was the five year old in us trying to do when he or she wrote that fairytale? Keep us safe? Keep us healthy? Keep us alive? Keep us noticed? When we can deeply respect and honor and feel the underlying intelligence in fairytales our psyche ripens for change through this kind of acceptance. I myself still have to meet aspects of myself every day with curiousity and acceptance rather than rigid fixing and the process is humbling.
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Traci is a therapist and the CEO of PSYCHED & Managing Director of Sidewalk Talk. Her therapy work is centered around working with couples and individuals working on their relationships. Her many years in corporate life make her a good match for executives and leaders.