The Importance of Our StoriesBy Phyllis Stein, Ph.D.
August 20, 2008
We are constantly telling ourselves a story about what is happening and why. Noticing the story can be an important step in our healing.
I was doing a session with a client, Jason, and we were talking about his belief that he was fundamentally bad. I asked him, "What if that was not true?" "Then nothing in my life would make sense," he answered. "So you are telling yourself this story, that you are bad in order for your experiences to make sense. What if it did not make sense, what would happen?" "Then I would have to face the fact that I was living in a crazyhouse," he replied.
The stories we tell ourselves, the ones we make up as we grow up, have just this purpose, to make sense of our experiences. They are powerful protectors but they also keep us stuck in the past. I think, possibly, that parts of us dissociate because the trauma that we are experiencing is beyond the ability of a story to protect us. These stories about what happened to us and is happening to us now and why, like all stories, have a premise (or more than one). One premise is almost always that we are fundamentally flawed. Others include that we are never going to be loved, that God is mean, that we are not important, that we must limit what we want, that we live to take care of others, that we will always be victims, etc., etc. Telling us these stories, endlessly, is the job of the wounded self, and we believe the stories automatically because they are so familiar that we never thought to question them.
In some New Age practices there is a strong emphasis on the idea that we are not our stories, that we are not any story at all. I have always resisted this concept, perceiving it as an attempt to perfect the spiritual bypass. To me, this feels like saying that if we are not any story at all, then our feelings are meaningless and not worth our attention. In Inner Bonding we examine these stories and replace them with a new story. In the new story, the premise is that we are intrinsically loveable and perfect, that God is a source of love and true guidance, that we are here to fully manifest our gifts and to share love. We call this story our true story, and I believe that it is. Just as we learned the old story thru our experiences, we learn the new one thru our experiences as well. The purpose of Inner Bonding, from this point of view, is to create these new, healing experiences so that the old toxic story can be replaced with a beautiful and healthy one.
I have found during sessions that asking "Is that your story?" framing things as a story that we are telling ourselves, is extremely helpful. Noticing that there is a story, running like a tape in background, helps us identify the wounded self in action. So I suggest that you might try looking at the story too. When someone is telling you're their problems, notice the story they are telling themselves. When your wounded self tells you that no one likes you and you will never succeed and who do you think you are anyway, notice that this is an old story. Then try asking these questions: "Is that my story?" "What if it was not true?" And finally, ask your guidance "Is the story really true?" Even if you think you don't have a good enough connection with guidance (another story), you can probably get an answer to this one.
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Notice throughout this day what gives you energy and what drains your energy. Which people are givers and which are takers? Which experiences energize and which are depleting? What thoughts fill you and what thoughts create emptiness? Become conscious of what gives to you and what takes from you.
By Dr. Margaret Paul