We all have a story we tell ourselves, tell others, or allow others to tell for us. Humans have a need to explain, order, and extract meaning from the chaos of our lives. The stories we tell ourselves don't get fact-checked, but they do have to feel authentic to our personal experience. Our ability to make sense of, and create meaning from, memories (often ones that have become warped or are bias) defines how we feel about ourselves and shapes the identity we create throughout our lives. We can’t change the events of our story, as the past no longer exists, but we can change our perception around the situations we experienced. The first step is no longer wanting to continue playing out the same old story lines over and over again. Is there an area of life you feel stuck in? Do you attract the same types of people into your life over and over? Do similar situations seem to repeat themselves? Do you believe your external circumstances control your life? Do you still believe you are the same person you were 5/10/20 years ago? If you answered yes to any of these questions, or have thought of another reason why you’re ready to change your story, then it’s time to take back control of your life.
I could list many examples of things I have needed to change my story around, but this isn’t my autobiography, so I’ll stick to the catalyst that inspired me to rewrite my personal story:
When I was nine, my parents noticed a change in my behavior and success (or lack of) at school. They sent me to a child therapist to have me evaluated, and a nifty little pamphlet was put together with the results. I don’t remember how old I was when I first found the folder as an adult, but I was in my early twenties I believe. I read it over on multiple occasions, the last time being a few months ago, and each time I cried. I cried not just because I was sad for the little girl that was being discussed, but because even into my 30s, I still felt like that little girl in many ways.
The positive points that were listed felt as though they had never been acknowledged- my IQ score put me in the superior range, I could read a Bernstein Bear’s book in it’s entirety at three and a half, and I was three years above my reading level, and I was essentially described as a caring, loving empath who wanted equality for all, and felt responsible for helping others. Instead, I somehow got trapped in the words that made me feel like something was wrong with me.
I was a people pleaser. I couldn’t handle anyone being upset with me, and I was terrified of letting people down. This led to a life of avoiding confrontation, lying, and having a severe lack of boundaries. According to my report, I had a huge lack of self confidence, and was highly critical of everything I did. I needed to be perfect, but my fear of being wrong and failing overpowered me. I allowed these beliefs to keep me from ever really trying in life; my fear of success kept me small and struggling for many years. I was told I had a mild to moderate visual-motor learning disability, which affected my drawing and math skills….and I have had a few meltdowns in art class at 36 years old.
There’s more, but the point is, I allowed this story to continue to play out for almost three decades. Just like all of the other stories I have allowed myself to believe about myself due to external circumstances, I am finally realizing that it simply is not true. I am not the teen that got bullied, I am not a victim of abuse and manipulation, I’m not less of a mother because I gave birth at 19, I am not the wild child that always has a story to tell, I am not a failure, I am not the black sheep…I am whoever I choose to see myself as. I get to determine who I am and how I feel. I have the power to change my perspective and rewrite my past in a way that feels good to me.
I started by taking a sheet of paper and writing down my old story. I then wrote down my new story on a separate sheet. You can write it out however you like! I started by making a list, and mostly writing opposites, ie. “Old story” I’m irresponsible. “New story” I am responsible for myself and others, and I am doing a great job. You can leave it at that, or start to get more elaborate. If you’re feeling creative, you can rewrite your life story as an actual story! “Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was scared of life, but now she is in love with her life and she is happy and thriving!”
A growing body of research finds that, on paper or out loud, reviewing setbacks after some time and distance, can help people find a new perspective, come to terms with who they've been, better envision who they want to be, and find a way to make a course correction. Reframing helps people see events as opportunities instead of the end of the road. Whatever works best for you, as long you reprogram your mind to let the past go, and reprogram it to be the person you want and deserve to be!