I think a lot about stories — the stories we tell our friends, the stories we create when we journal, and the stories we create when we write fiction and memoir. All of our stories have something in common: an attempt to understand ourselves and the world (or universe) we live in.
When we believe the stories we tell about ourselves — our pasts, presents, and futures — in a very real sense we actively create realities within which we operate. According to blogger Mike Bellah, “The stories we tell ourselves have great power over us. Depending on how they are told, our stories can either enlighten or mislead, inspire or discourage.” I believe that’s true, not only for others but for ourselves, as well.
After all, you are who you believe you are. And how you choose to frame your stories influences who you think you are today and who you will become tomorrow. For example, let’s say that you experienced something hurtful as a child (and who hasn’t?). You can choose to tell the story to yourself as, “This thing happened and I was irreparably damaged,” or “This thing happened, and though I allowed it to influence my behavior for many years, I eventually overcame it,” or “This thing happened, and though it was difficult, I’m a better person for having gone through it.” The first of these examples says, “I’m a victim.” The second says, “I was a victim, but no longer.” And the third says, “I have grown through my pain.” Which of these stories would you prefer to tell about yourself?
This week’s journaling prompts help us to consider the impact of the stories we tell about ourselves:
- What stories do you tell about your abilities and talents? Do you limit yourself in your stories, give yourself license to do the extraordinary, or somewhere in between?
- What is the story you tell most often about your childhood and/or your family of origin? How does this story make you feel? How does this story mirror what you think about yourself?
- What reoccurring themes emerge in your stories about your relationships with others? If someone else were to tell you those same stories, how do you think you’d view that person?
- Make a list of five or more of your “positive” qualities. Choose several of these qualities and write why you think you have these qualities, using examples from your life (stories about yourself). How has telling these stories reinforced these qualities?
- Repeat #4 with a list of five or more “negative” qualities and their stories.
- Write about how having these negative qualities has helped you (For example, if stubbornness is listed as a negative quality, how has being stubborn benefited you during your life?) After writing about a quality’s benefits, does it still seem to be one of your worst qualities? If yes, why do you think so? If no, did looking at the beneficial side of that quality make you think differently about it?
- Look through past journal entries until you find a story about yourself in which you’ve portrayed yourself as negative, limited, or victimized. Without rewriting the facts of an event, rewrite the story with a more positive or freeing emphasis. Which story is the “true” story? Does rewriting the story make you feel differently about the past? If so, how?
I invite you to share what you’ve learned about yourself through your stories — leave a comment below.