The Stories We Tell Ourselves
I was incredibly insecure as a teenager. I didn’t go to more than a couple dances. I wasn’t invited to the weekend parties. I never had a boyfriend. And I was convinced that all of this was because I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, enough-period, to merit any of the privileges that were reserved for those who clearly were good enough, pretty enough, enough-period.
Here’s the irony: at the very same time that I bemoaned virtually everything about my life, I was getting straight-A’s, performing in piano competitions, and fulfilling multiple leadership positions at school.
Somehow, the latter didn’t make up for the former. Despite the good things happening around me, to me, even because of me,
the “noise” of feeling not enough drowned out nearly everything else.
And that noise was (and is) the story I told myself — over and over again.
No matter the ways in which my life has changed over the decades since then, no matter how much data I have accumulated as evidence of my inherent value and worth.
I still hear that voice inside. It still chatters away. It is still a story I tell myself.
Maybe you can relate?
You have your own version: a story (or multiple stories) you told yourself as a teenager, even younger, and certainly ongoing, that has not remained isolated to those years alone. The stories we tell ourselves, no matter how long ago, persist, inhabit, and stay.
It doesn’t seem to matter much that they’re housed in times long-since gone; or that now, as an adult, they sound ridiculous. And for many of us, despite the effort we’ve extended to not give them space or thought or energy, they just. keep. talking.
We do believe them: these stories we tell ourselves.
Back to my personal example…
The story I told myself as a teenager was “I’m not good enough, not pretty enough, not enough-period.” Perhaps that’s common, even to be expected during such tumultuous, developmental years. But what of now? Why do I still hear that story echoing within me from time to time?
Though the stories I tell myself may have started out as the simple cry of a young girl, they point the way to far deeper desires, longings, even pains. When I really listen to that girl within, to the message within the stories I tell myself, this is what I hear:
- I am not heard.
- I am not seen.
- I am not wanted / appreciated / acknowledged.
And once I hear this? Well, now I’m no longer rolling my eyes at silly thoughts that flit through my mind from time-to-time. I’ve uncovered a core story that has played itself out in a myriad of ways — over and over again. It’s one I continue to tell myself…because ultimately, it expresses my deepest desires. And “deepest desires” matter.
As I acknowledge this, as I reread the three statements above, I feel the lump in my throat and the tears behind my eyes. I’m no longer lost in teenage insecurities, but watching reel after reel of movies in my mind’s eye in which this core story has played itself out in my life. Choices I made. Compromises I allowed. Boundaries I didn’t enforce. Realities I tolerated.
That core story, full of my deepest desire, has shaped much of my life. Were I not to see and recognize that, I would only know it as an irritant — something to repress, push away, and deny. I would remain at its mercy, living a story that is not the one I choose, but one that controls me by default.
I won’t speak for you, but I don’t want to be controlled by default or live a story that is not the one I choose.
And so, I listen even more closely…
One of the ways I’ve learned to uncover these core stories is through a simple writing practice that has offered me more grace and insight than I can begin to name; I’m hopeful it will provide you the same.
- Open up a blank document on your computer.
- Ask yourself, “What do the voices within me want to say?” (The young child. The teenager. The jilted lover. The struggling spouse. The desperate parent. The exhausted woman.)
- No editing. No censoring. No holding back.
- Close your eyes and type. (Something happens when I close my eyes and give myself full and complete permission to type EVERYTHING that comes to mind — no matter how harsh, how caustic, how painful, how afraid. I hear even more. I listen even deeper. And I let myself speak without restraint or shame or some imagined need to keep things tidy and manageable. Not every time, but many times, I type things that nearly take my breath away, that shock me with their force, that break my heart. Like: “I am not heard. I am not seen. I am not wanted / appreciated / acknowledged.” But when all of me is allowed, when I don’t push the voices down, or dismiss them as silly teenage (or middle age and beyond) rants, I see threads of those stories I’ve been told and the ones I tell myself. *sigh*
- Ask yourself: what are the themes? what’s underneath? what have I always desired, at core, that shows up in every one of these voices? how might that very desire be what I most deeply deserve?
Once I am able and willing to see, name, and acknowledge the stories I’m telling myself, then and only then, can I respond and change, even choose what I’ll hold on to — or not; I can choose what I am willing to believe and what I can now release.
Mareo McKracken said this:
“Our reality and our actions will always match the story we believe.”
We get to decide on those stories — the ones we’ve been told and the ones we tell ourselves.
May it be so.
Looking closely at the stories — those that you’ve been told and those that you tell yourself — is a predominant aspect of SOVEREIGNTY: my 9-week program. I am convinced that those stories are often the very things that create sovereignty’s absence instead of its presence, that hold us back from being 100% ourselves, 100% of the time. And it’s all this and then some that I want for you!