What story are you telling yourself?
Posted by: Sue Atkins
It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but the story we tell ourselves about what those events mean.
~ Sue Atkins
I work with many parents on a huge array of parenting topics yet there is a common theme to all the Mum’s I work with.
Their natural ability to ‘beat themselves up’ with guilt about not being perfect.
They tell themselves a story, because storytelling helps us all impose order on chaos—including emotional chaos.
When we’re in pain, we create a story inside our own head to help us make sense of it.
This story doesn’t have to be based on any real information or in fact be true, and in my experience of working with many Mums, the “I’m not enough” explanation is often the first thing they default to. It’s like sticking on your favourite baggy jeans – they may not be flattering, but they’re familiar & comforting.
The ‘stories’ people tell themselves are really about self- protection and often parents suffering from guilt, anxiety and worry have low self esteem themselves or are, like me, recovering perfectionists !
But whatever the reasons behind ‘The Story’ this unconscious storytelling leaves us stuck.
We keep tripping over the same issues, over & over again and after we fall, we find it hard to get back up again.
The good news is that we can rewrite these stories. We just have to be brave enough to reckon with our deepest emotions & be self- aware enough to make some small changes, that over time, will make a big difference in our lives, and the lives of our children.
My work as a parent coach is to help people find their own answers but they can’t chart a new course until they find out where they are, how they came to that point and where they want to go.
Try Something New
The next time you’re in a situation that pushes your buttons from a confrontation with your child, a misunderstanding with your partner, or a relationship breakup and you’re overwhelmed by anger, disappointment or embarrassment, try this:
This is a really simple technique I invented to help you to STOP and THINK !
Then you can ……
1. Engage with your feelings.
Your body usually tells you that you’re having an emotional reaction: your face begins to feel hot, your tummy starts to feel tied up in knots, you want to grab some chocolate or hit a pillow. Or your response may involve repetitive racing thoughts or replaying the event in slow motion. You don’t need to know exactly where the feelings are coming from: you just have to acknowledge them.
2. Get curious about the story behind the feelings.
Now step back physically and press your imaginary ‘Pause Button’ and ask yourself a few questions.
Why am I being so hard on everyone – including myself?
What happened right before this chocolate craving moment ?
Why am I obsessing over what happened?
This step can be surprisingly difficult but become a ‘Detective’ like Sherlock Holmes, Columbo or Luther & get curious about your feelings as it will lead to some really interesting discoveries.
3. Write it all down.
The most effective way to become truly aware of our stories is to write them down, so get your thoughts out of your head and down on paper. Nothing too complicated but try just finishing these sentences:
The story I’m making up…
I’m feeling …. (Write down your emotions) …..
My body is …..
I believe that ……
For instance, you might write, I’m so angry. I feel like I could punch someone, throw the dog bowl at the wall, or swear unashamedly.
You can be mad, self-righteous, confused or tearful. A story driven by emotion and self-protection probably doesn’t involve accuracy, logic or civility. If your story contains those things, it’s likely that you’re not being fully honest with yourself.
Get ready to rumble.
It’s time to poke and prod and dig a little deeper, exploring the ins and outs. ‘KISS’ it or ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ – as the first questions are often the simplest:
1. What are the facts, and what are my assumptions?
2. What do I need to know about the other people or circumstances involved?
Now we get to the more difficult questions:
3. What am I really feeling? What part did I play?
I feel so worthless. I’m failing as a Mum and I don’t want to ask for help because someone might say I’m a terrible person, that I’m weak, that I’m inadequate and they’ll judge me.
You may discover that you’ve been masking shame with sarcasm, or that being resentful is better than being vulnerable and asking for what you want.
These truthful discoveries may be uncomfortable, but they can be the basis of meaningful change.
Figuring out your own story could take 20 minutes or 20 years. And you may not make one big transformation; maybe it’s a series of incremental changes. You just have to feel your way through.
If you’re thinking this sounds too hard I understand, as its not easy really looking deeply and analysing yourself and it can feel dangerous, scary & vulnerable because you’re confronting yourself—the fear, aggression, shame and blame.
Facing our stories takes courage.
But owning our stories is the only way we get to write a brave new, better ending or is it really a brave new beginning ?
To find out more about vulnerability go and explore this wonderful TED Talk by
Brené Brown, PhD, a research professor at the University of Houston who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.
If you’d like to come and explore and change your story – give me a call on 01883 818329 or email me at [email protected]