By: Megan Earp
In life, we tend to create stories about “who we are”. These “stories” are not necessarily true, but they are the ones we have constructed and sadly, come to believe.
These stories and the effects they have are so important that there is now a new study in psychological research called “narrative psychology“.
When mental health issues arise, it is because the stories we have created about ourselves are clashing with reality or it is because we have come to believe in these destructive stories, no matter how untrue they may be.
It is hard to let go of these stories and sometimes they have become so ingrained in us that we have lost sight of the truth that is right in front of us – it’s just a fictional story.
We humans have a tendency to resort to storytelling in order to cope with the stressors in our lives. Oftentimes, these stories can be embellished and the person telling the story begins to live the story, even if it’s not true.
Each moment of our life is a chapter in the story we are living, and some of these chapters are good, and others are bad. As humans, we tend to focus on the bad stories and become trapped in those. Once that happens, it’s hard to find out what the truth really is or even was to begin with.
So, how do we break free of the stories we are telling ourselves and what, in reality, are these stories? How do we learn how to utilize the stories we have created to master our lives?
First off, what do these “stories we tell ourselves” look like?
These stories can come in all sorts of chapters, but vary from “being ugly” to “I’m not good enough,” and so much more. There are millions of versions of these stories, and a million more stories that can be told about who we are. The thing is, that’s exactly what they are, stories.
These stories have turned into our truths, and that is often why good mental health is so hard to achieve. Once we believe these stories as true, it is difficult to change our minds and believe differently. It’s even harder to put a positive spin on our stories. We become trapped in the fictional story we have created and it causes us distress, feelings of anxiousness, and even depression.
I have told myself many stories over the past years. My stories go a little something like this: “I’m not good enough. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’m a Borderline. I’m a horrible mother. I’m too fat.” I know these stories are common, and many others have experienced the same ones.
But do you see a recurring theme here? The stories I tell myself are negative, which is what happens more often than not. But, just think – what would happen if I told myself a positive story instead? This is the problem with the stories we tell ourselves. Most of the time, they are negative and that impacts our mental health greatly.
It’s easier to tell a negative story than a positive one, but what would that look like if we were to put a positive spin on a negative story? Is it possible to change our negative stories to a positive one?
Telling ourselves a new story
It is imperative that we learn to create a new story about who we are. Instead of shedding a negative light on ourselves, we need to look for a positive spin. Some examples of putting a positive spin on the story could be:
- Instead of “I’m not good enough” say, “I am good enough, but I’m struggling at the moment.”
- Instead of “I’m a recovering alcoholic” say, “I’m a survivor of an addiction and I’m feeling overwhelmed at the moment.”
- Instead of “I’m a Borderline” say, “I have a mental health disorder, but that doesn’t define who I am.”
- Instead of “I’m a horrible mother” say, “My kids are happy and I’m trying my best, but I’m overwhelmed at the moment.”
- Instead of “I’m too fat” say, “I need to get back to eating healthy and working out again, because it makes me feel better.”
Can you see how the positive spin can help to change our story? In the realm of mental health, it’s about changing our perspective from negative to positive. If we must tell ourselves a story, it should be a positive one. We can then learn how to live our new stories and use them to create a better and healthier alternative.
So, how can we go about changing our stories to a more positive one? It’s easy to say, “just be more positive,” but how can that actually be achieved? Here are five thoughts on how to change your story, to create a more positive outlook, and to start mastering the life you truly want:
- Use your story to make sense of your life: Our identities are created through the stories we tell, so instead of writing a story that is negative, begin to craft a story that is positive. Even though you may have had a bad experience, think to yourself, how can I use this experience to create a better self?
- Look for a common theme: One thing that you can do is make a list of the stories you tell yourself. Do you say, “I’m overweight?” If so, write that down. Then, think of more stories you tell yourself about who you are. Once you do that, look for a common theme among those stories. Are they about your image? Parenting? Etc. Common themes can help you to see where your struggles lie, and thus help you to recreate those parts of your story.
- Stories do not define you: Understanding that your stories do not define you is paramount in recreating them. Most of the time, we have lived these stories for years, or even our entire lives. Beginning to see the stories we tell helps us to see how we can change them for a better future. Remember, just because you tell a particular story, it doesn’t mean that is who you are. It’s just a PART of you. A part that you can use to create something truly amazing.
- Guess what? Your story can change!: We, as humans, tend to feel that we cannot change. How many of you out there have been told that? To begin with, that’s not true! People can change, it’s about willpower, motivation, and the desire to do so. Just because your story started out negative, doesn’t mean it can’t become something positive and wonderful. You may not get everything you want out of your life, but you can learn how to make small changes in order to use your stories to create a better future. Again, your story CAN change.
- What is your story?: In order to begin to change and master your future, you have to be open and willing to understand what stories you have to tell. Now, not all of our stories are negative, so think about both the good stories and the bad. Good stories could be, “I’m a good writer, I’m an inspiring teacher, I’m dedicated to my education,” etc. Make a list, write them out, or say them out loud and take a mental note. Then, begin reconstructing those stories by changing how they sound (see above). If you have a list of positive stories, focus on telling yourself those stories more and then use them to help change your negative stories.
Changing your story is only the beginning
Taking the negative stories we tell ourselves and making them positive is only the beginning to a long road of nurturing our mental health. We must make an entire mind change, and the above steps can help to push us into the right direction. Once we accept that they are just stories we tell ourselves, then we can truly begin to heal.
In life, no one impacts our stories but ourselves. The way we react to a situation, the way we talk to ourselves, and the way we are with others are all our decisions to be made. We have the control, and through consistent practice, we can master the story.
If you still feel like you are telling yourself disempowering stories, or need help to redefine your story, create a new one, or for someone to talk to because you are feeling down, please contact us or call us on 8888701775 and talk to one of our therapists about it. Together, we can master your story.