Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have for making sense of the world.
A story you believe to be true can be based on a real experience initially. And then as you think about it and mull it around in your mind it can gain momentum and spiral into beliefs about the story that are actually not true.
We all do this. We perceive an entire story to be true when parts of it are something we made up - a lie or perception we tell ourselves is true.
We see this happen in the media all the time. Certain events are reported with some accuracy but the slant of the story is told by a person (or media outlet) sharing the story through their perspective. Do they have a preconceived bias or belief that could change what they see and therefore distort the story as they share it?
Years ago I worked with a 97 year old woman (and her adult children) to write her life story. She had a failing body but an exceptional memory and could recall many specific life events with great detail. It was fascinating to interview her and hear historical events as seen through her eyes. As we met each week, she would often share the pain felt because her sickly mother wasn’t able to hold and cuddle her as a child. (She was mostly cared for by her eldest sister.) As she expressed this pain to me over and over again throughout the time we spent together, it was a powerful lesson to me. What we focus on - we give power to. This woman had many wonderful life experiences to share. She could have chosen any of them to focus on - but she chose to focus on the pain she felt as a child. And what she believed about her story - is that her mother didn’t love her and give her what she needed. Certainly it isn’t my right to question this. However, there are many other details of her story that tell me her mother did love and care for her.
Later I made a similar mistake. About a year after my father died I was processing the loss and grief I felt by writing in my journal. Writing about my feelings of pain that I felt regarding my father not believing in me and my dreams. As a single mother I often heard my father express to me his wish that I would get married again. How I interpreted this was that he felt I ‘needed a man to take care of me’. There were other memories of dialogue where I felt criticized by my father. This is something I believed and focused on to the degree it was difficult for me to have conversations with him about my life.
A remarkable thing occurred while writing and meditating upon my feelings. I had a very surreal experience in that I was suddenly aware of my father’s perspective about me and our relationship. My mind was flooded with memories and actual events in which he showed me his love and support for me. Tears flowed as I had the realization about my own ‘slanted story’. I had convinced myself that my father didn’t believe in me. This was a lie I told myself for years. How grateful I am for this experience that woke me up and caused me to see the truth of our relationship instead of the lies or perception I’d adopted.
I've seen this time and time again as I work with people who share their life stories. They often choose to focus on their pain rather than how they succeeded to overcome and triumph through many life obstacles. As I listen and learn from shared life experiences it is easy for me to see others strengths and admire all they’ve done. And as the ‘writer’ hearing stories this is how I often choose to view their life. But in our private moments when some reveal self doubt, pain and sorrow - I truly wish I could help them see themselves through loving, forgiving eyes.
What are the negative thoughts you believe about yourself? You’ve been a terrible person? You've lied, cheated, hurt someone? Someone has lied, cheated and hurt you? You’re too fat, too thin, too slow, too impatient, too jealous , not good enough, not worthy enough?
If you’re open to seeing your story from another perspective, It doesn’t mean you don’t see and write about your pain. It just means you don’t focus on that. You focus on the value of your experiences. What did they teach you? Did they change you? How might they teach others?
~ Michele Brown