The Stories We Tell Ourselves

storyofmylifeEver since I was a child I have been fascinated by stories and how we tell them. I would ask to be told fairy stories again and again and as I got a little older would retell them to my younger brother and sisters. I read avidly when I was young and have always loved stories with complicated multiple intertwined plots partly because they reflect life. Our own stories mix with others both dependent and independent of them and the complexity of our lives and the way we tell and retell our own stories thrills and excites me.

Perhaps that’s why I love my work as a therapist and why I am so drawn to writing. Everything and everyone is a story. It is a mixture of the truth, a perception of the truth and of pure invention. And when I say invention I do not necessarily mean lies, although of course some stories are told to deceive and to hide, but I am only too well aware our minds are curious things and when we do not see the full picture of a happening, we are liable for perfection’s sake, to create the rest of it within our head so that the narrative is complete and so that it makes some sort of sense. Stories are how we make sense of our world and we have told them ever since the birth of language over and over again.

In my work I hear many people’s stories. It is my job to help them make sense of them, maybe to help them tell them for one last time before choosing to tell a different story. Very often I don’t hear the full story, just part of it and like everyone else, I am tempted to make sense of it by completing it in my own head just to finish it in some way.  We all do this with the stories we hear from those around us because we tend not to like things unfinished. Stories are complicated and interwoven and rarely, if at all ever, the complete truth.

Stories always change in the retelling. My husband comes from a small town here in Scotland and it is a standing joke that if you tell someone you have a headache at the top of the town that by the time the story gets to the bottom of the town you’re dead and buried. As I have already stated, there really is no such thing as a true story. The details always get changed, some things get magnified, others forgotten and sometimes the essential truth of the story completely disappears. So it is sometimes with our own stories, the ones we tell ourselves about our own lives. We can leave out the good bits about our strengths, about our successes because it is “big-headed” and wrong to boast and the story we tell ourselves, about the person we are, can all too often be full of failure, weakness and tragedy. We become the victim in the story who has things done to them and who is mired in misfortune unable to save themselves and we wait for the knight on his white charger to come along and rescue us. Unfortunately not many stories have knights on white chargers in them and they are seldom to be found anywhere in life.

We are lucky though. One of the great things about stories, is that we can choose at any time to rewrite them. We can be the author of our own destiny and take responsibility for our own outcome. We can change the characters, we can change the plot and most importantly, perhaps, we can change the ending. Even when the story has been told and retold a million times in your head, you can make a choice to say enough is enough, I don’t like that story any more. Right there and then you can change it so that when telling it, you enjoy it more. Even more radically you can, if you wish, create a completely new story. How fantastic might that be? What would you put in it?

When you hear yourself say something along the lines of “I can’t…” or “I’m useless” remember this is just a story. It’s one you have told and retold yourself a million time. As with all stories, some of it or maybe all of it is made up. It simply isn’t true but appears to be because you have heard it again and again and so in your mind it becomes the truth. Perhaps now is the time to rewrite your story, to begin your very own “Once upon a time…” where you are the hero or heroine, where you triumph over adversity and you create your own destiny and even if it’s not yet a happily ever after it still becomes a story that is more satisfying and life-fulfilling.

My challenge to anyone reading this is to pick out a story you tell yourself again and again, to listen to it carefully and decide if it really does help you be the person you want to be. You have the power (and if you don’t you can get help) to retell your story the way you want, to re-create it in a new more exciting and appealing manner. You do not need to listen to the old version ever again if you do not want to and the more you retell your new story, the more it will become your truth and your reality. Your stories are incredibly powerful, so tell yours as you would want to hear them told to you.


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