The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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 illustration by Nadezhda Illarionova

Recently I read Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance. Tara is a therapist and  Buddhist. She writes from this combined perspective and as such is prone to asking such questions as “who is the one who is watching,” and “can I feel compassion for the one who hurt me.”  These are good questions but as I read I began to wonder about another question; one she didn’t ask, “what story am I telling myself now?” You see I realize that often when I am angry, hurt or upset about something there is a narrative going on that justifies that feeling.

I love stories. Sometimes that makes me so gullible because someone will be sharing this incredible tall tale and I’ll be all like, “Wow! What happened next?” when someone more wise would be shaking their head. I love stories. I tell myself stories all the time and these stories usually make me either the good guy or the victim. I prefer to be the heroine even if it is a heroine in distress. I tell myself that I’m the one who was injured in my divorce, so wronged! I tell myself that I was one voice speaking up for abused women at seminary. I tell myself that I am one of those hurt and abused women and that the world is dangerous. I tell myself that as a single middle aged white woman I have privilege and responsibility while also being divested of power.  I tell myself a lot of things. And I usually believe my stories and that’s the rub. You see most people believe my stories and they believe their own too.  My friends have my back and they believe in me and my stories.

And my stories are true, at least historically, from my perspective, but the rub is they aren’t always true now. Not now, not today. And sometimes I act as if these old stories are still going on. I feel the emotional brunt of them and I make decisions as if. So I began to wonder what would happen if I simply asked myself, as Tara Brach did with so many other wonderful questions, what story am I telling myself now? When I am hurt and angry, what story am I telling myself? When I am sad and lonely, what story am I telling myself? When I have to move from one house to another, to another, because I don’t have a home, what story am I telling myself? When it’s been years and years since I went out on a date, what story am I telling myself?  You see some of these stories aren’t even mine. The story that if you are larger than a size 6 or 8 that no one will date you is a media story, it’s a myth.

We all have our stories. We create meaning in our lives by telling ourselves stories that explain why things happen. But sometimes we also create pain. Sometimes we diminish our expectations because it’s just too scary to hope, to try for something better. Sometimes we justify continuing in negative patterns and habits and we tell ourselves stories that make this OK.

So I’m wondering today what story I want to be telling myself. What stories empower me. What stories leave me feeling devastated and powerless.  What story do I want to hold close to my heart?