Our Stories Are Our Power
In my last post, I wrote about how our brains can generate false narratives at any given moment and that our bodies start to believe them to be true while reacting physiologically. But what about the stories we believe that we’re not even conscious of; the stories that are so entrenched in us that we don’t even realize they exist? These stories have roots so deep that we don’t even recall how they took hold of our psyche. I’m talking about the stories that take shape in our childhoods before we even became aware of our personal selves.
We are all storytellers, whether we admit it or not. We tell stories to other people so they see us as we wish them to and most importantly, we tell ourselves stories about ourselves. These stories can be the most powerful and damaging of all because we tend to not want to interrogate them. We take them as gospel and they shape our entire life experience. But what if we start challenging these internal stories we’ve created and live by? Can we break them down, reconstruct them, revise or eliminate them to empower us to live a more authentic and true life? I believe we can, but we first must take stock of all of the stories we’ve created about ourselves and determine why we’ve let them become part of our identity.
I’ve found that many of the stories I tell myself about who I am, I’m usually not even aware of on the surface level. They’re buried deep inside of me and I act on them without any forethought or awareness. Mining our stories requires deep internal excavation and a willingness to get uncomfortable with the untruths that we tell ourselves and why we created the stories or let them take hold of us in the first place.
Not surprisingly, most of the stories I believe about myself are negative. Many of them are culturally influenced, some come from my family of origin, some from my life experience and some are a combination of all three. For example, my culture has taught me that my voice and opinion don’t matter because I’m female. This is just one of many stories my culture wants me to believe and embody because I am female. I’ve found that breaking down each story and spelling out to myself the falsehoods around each one starts to dissolve the power of the story and allows me to craft the true story, one that empowers me to be my best and most authentic self. If I can begin to see that the story I tell myself that my voice doesn’t matter is an outcome of living in a patriarchal society that devalues women and their voices, I can begin to erase the power of that story and empower myself to use my voice. I don't suddenly become boisterous and outgoing; that's not who I am, but I can break free of the shy girl I believed myself to be and begin to use my voice in support of myself and others and to oppose the patriarchal constraints that enabled me to believe the story in the first place.
I began deconstructing my internal stories as a means of examining their affect on how I show up in the world. This exercise quickly became an eye opening experience of realizing that I’m often my own worst enemy. Once I began to explore the origins of these stories, I could easily see why they caused me anxiety because they didn't allow me to be my true self. They conspired to make me a shy girl who never felt comfortable in her own skin. I fully believed all of the stories that our culture tells girls: that my voice doesn’t matter, that I shouldn’t take up space, and that my body is not my own. All of these cultural expectations were reinforced in my family of origin as I watched my mom defer all decision making to my dad and rarely speak her mind. These forces combined to make me a shy, obedient and stifled girl because I believed my true nature and instincts were wrong. My voice even became soft and muted. I continued to live this way well into adulthood, lugging these stories with me as I tried to navigate the world as someone other than the person I truly was.
Living inauthentically helped drive me into anxiety and depression. Covering up my true self to conform to the expectations of others has had profound effects on my mental health, but once I began interrogating these stories about how I was expected to operate in the world, I realized that they didn’t benefit me at all. Putting myself in a box benefited others. It gave the ‘others’ more space to have their voices heard and their interests valued and protected. It’s easy to see that when a culture creates stories for some of its members to live by, members of the groups unencumbered by negative expectations gain advantages and opportunities. This is how marginalization occurs and becomes sanctioned in a society.
It’s important to ask ourselves who benefits from us believing these stories about ourselves. Finding out who or what planted the seed of your stories is a powerful action. It reveals who influences you most and then you can explore why you’ve given this person or system so much power over your life. If it’s not me that benefits from the story, then it’s not a story worth giving credence to and it’s time to kick that story off of my personal story shelf.
If we’re going to live by any stories, shouldn’t they be the ones in which we get to be our best, most authentic selves? I believe we shouldn’t settle for anything less.