I was listening to a radio show the other day, and a caller said: “Over the years, I’ve come to the realization that human beings have a deeply rooted belief that we are unlovable.” My first thought was: “I don’t feel that way at all.” My next thought was that this caller was making a rather broad assumption on behalf of all human beings! This belief of being unlovable was obviously part of her own story. It was such a good story that she had projected it onto the rest of humanity. This is the story through which she views the world.

We’re all living within stories of our own making. Most of these stories are about ourselves. The story of how good we are at something. The story of how everyone takes advantage of us. The story of how, one day, we’re going to be rich and famous. There are the stories that make us look superior, and stories that help us avoid taking responsibility. There are the stories in which we’re always right, or always the injured party. Then there are the stories about other people (“My mother will never understand.”) and even stories about all of humanity (“People are good/bad/etc.”).

There is nothing wrong with our stories. We use them as a frame of reference. We share our stories with each other and influence each other through the sharing. Our stories are how we explain our life circumstances to ourselves, and sometimes to others. They are the filters through which we view every interaction. Our stories create our perspective, our unique point of view on life.

Now, we could talk about creating positive stories for ourselves. Empowering stories certainly serve our happiness more than stories of victimization. In my opinion taking a positive perspective definitely is preferable over a negative world view. But here’s the thing: They are all just the stories we tell ourselves.

These stories are not who we are. And they are not “true.”

The problem with the stories are that, as the events of our life change, the stories change also. One moment we’re the capable, successful business man or woman. We are the maverick entrepreneur who does things his or her own way. And then we get laid off, or fired. Our business goes under. The story and our life experience suddenly don’t work together anymore. And overnight, the story becomes “I thought I was successful, but the whole time I was just kidding myself.” Or “I’m not appreciated for my hard work.” Or “My clients just couldn’t understand my vision.” The story can change overnight. Its perceived truth is like a rug that is pulled out from under us. We can go from living a story of being happily married to living a story of deception in an instant. If we allow our story to become our identity, we will live in fear, because our very identity is constantly in jeopardy.

Our minds are going to tell us these stories. There is nothing wrong with that. If we can pick positive and uplifting stories to support us, then by all means let’s do so. But we must acknowledge the stories for what they are. We can observe our minds in the telling. “Look, there’s my mind, spinning that yarn again about how my neighbors are so inconsiderate and I’m so superior, because I would never act that way. There it goes …”

Through observation, we create a space between our identity and the story. The bigger that space grows, the less attached we are to the story. Within that space is room to question the story because, in doing so, we are not threatening our own identity. Within that space, we create room to be present to what IS, rather than trying to make events fit our story. It is a space in which we can discover our true nature and inner wisdom.

What stories are you telling yourself these days?

Blessings,
Andrea

Thank you to Anmol Mehta for including this article in his Yoga, Meditation, and Spiritual Growth Carnival.

42 Comments

  • Andrea,

    Last week, when I was considering what to include in my 7 Random & Weird Things about Me post (link on my name above) one of the rules I chose for boundaries of what to include/what not to include was What is true about me TODAY?

    Since writing that post, I’ve been especially conscious of the stories about me that belong to my past versus those that belong to my present (and even my future). It’s not that all the past stories are necessarily “bad” or “good” — it’s just that they make me question what qualifies as true about me.

    Then, I realized that I’m asking this question of myself, not necessarily even sharing it with others, but the answers to the stories I use to define who I am are a CHOICE. I’ve even become aware that how many “good things” about myself are “old news” — “old stories.”

    I started wondering “Are they even relevant?”

    I constantly hear other people dragging old stories about themselves forward, using these to define themselves, and then projecting them onto the world around or sharing them publicly. Look at how often these stories are tragic!

    Thanks for letting me “hog your blog” here in the comments, as I was considering writing about this, and right here and now seems the perfect opportunity to share some thoughts.

    Here’s a question I’m deeply pondering at the moment: What is my story, if I could not include the past? What is my story if the first page had to be today?

  • Last night I went to my first 12-Step program in about 10 years. I went with a friend to her first visit. One person, left the meeting to probably never come back. Her story is that people disrespect her and abuse her. She came to the meeting with that story and left with that story which she is not willing, at this time, to see changed. What you expect from people is what you find in people.

  • Andrea says:

    Slade – thank you for those comments – “hog” away, that’s what makes it interesting!!! I’m pondering those last two questions. What if there is no story? Why should there have to be one?

    I’m noticing lately that I don’t much care to know the past or even present life circumstances of new people I meet. I’d rather just jump right into the stuff that actually matters. Maybe it’s because I don’t like knowing much about my clients before I read for them – it’s always a “cleaner” reading that way.

    I mean, you and I have had some really great conversations together … without really knowing much “about” one another. I love that – no story, just being-ness. The stories may be there, but they’re not what’s important.

    Patricia – I think so many people have a “poor me” story that defines them! I think we all do that from time to time, to be honest – it lets us off the hook.

    One other thought, to both of these comments (I just love you guys for getting me going, here). Sometimes people want to define us by our past stories – you know, maybe get a handle on us? I met a nice elderly couple and got into a conversation, and they asked me about where my parents lived. In that conversation, it came out that my mom had passed away when I was thirteen. What was so weird was that this was the story they really, really wanted to define me by – they kept coming back to it. And to me, it’s just sort of a fact of my life that in no way really defines who I actually am. Anyway, I think sometimes people have a tendency to define others by their perceived hardships – or, I’m sure, success and accomplishments. Which I guess reflect their own frame of reference, right?

    Okay, I’ll stop rambling now … thank you both!
    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • The young girl last night wanted to be defined as disrespected and abused. I chose to write about my past experiences on my blog in an effort to help others out of the pain sooner than I did. I don’t see my past story as who I am today and it has made me who I am today. So how do you stop identifying with your past especially if it is still affecting you today? That question is to both of you, Andrea and Slade.

    I feel that part of my purpose is to show people that we are more than our past experiences and I don’t think that I can do that without sharing those past experiences.

  • Story-free?
    I’m all for that… Kind of the deeper level of the questions I was asking, the next logical layer.

    What if you just keep peeling away those layers until you get to a core, and operate from there?

    It’s a challenge to image. I don’t think we’re supposed to be able to answer all these questions perfectly, just exploring the “What if…” is often enough. What do you find along the way as you’re asking, un-covering, discovering?

    I feel that even the real stumpers – the question marks and the total blanks you come away with – are useful in and of themselves.

    Great conversation today — Thanks!

  • voipBlogger says:

    First time reader here… it’s interesting the differences in people’s “stories.” I think the story I tell people changes everyday, but a lot of times how that day starts all depends on the feeling I am in when I wake up, if I got enough sleep the night before, or what’s on my mind.

  • KL says:

    This is one reason I went offline – I felt like my blog had become wrapped around a particular story of who I was… and that particular I wasn’t anymore.

    So how do we live and interact without having stories about ourselves?

    I’ve noticed how easy it is to change the story about a factual event in the past to suit my current perspective…

    Another point about stories… by it’s very nature, a story must have conflict of some type – against another person, against society, institutions, the environment…

    Where there is conflict there is duality – A v. B.

    Protagonist versus Antagonist.

    Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader.

    Abused versus Abuser.

    Is moving beyond story the first step in moving beyond duality and perceiving Oneness?

  • KL says:

    Forgot to tick the comments box…

    And the anti-spam word is now “whole” 😉

    Ah the magic of the Universe

  • What is my story, if I could not include the past? What is my story if the first page had to be today? Alright Slade here goes:

    I woke up and fed the cat and gave him lots of love and good food, he was happy. I made coffee, did the dishes and checked my blogs and e-mail. My daughter woke up and I told her I loved her and brought her to her mom who I also said I love you to and brought her coffee, she was happy, we watched the morning news.

    I went to work, pruned a bunch of cherry trees and hurt my elbow which was extremely painful and I cursed several times out loud unfortunately. I finished work, got bogged down in traffic and thought about blogging and several business ventures on the way home. I ate dinner with my family, tried to ease the pain in my elbow and neck and had a decompression talk with my wife and whola..here I am, that’s my story!

  • Mags says:

    Patricia, maybe it’s a case of separating out the facts from the meaning we choose to give to an event? For example, a fact of my life is that my parents got divorced when I was about 3 years old. I could choose to give meaning to that… my story could be that I was from a broken home and as a result suffered abandonment issues. I could define myself like this and allow this story to have an effect on every relationship I ever have. Or… it’s just a fact. I can feel an energetic shift in myself when I make myself switch between the two – if I make a story about the event, I get a tight angry feeling in my solar plexus, I feel trapped and squashed, almost literally like there’s a weight pressing on me, whereas if I truly live in the present, no attachment to placing meaning on the fact, I feel light and free.

    What do you think, Andrea? Thanks for the great post! As a writer, I love making up stories, and it’s been quite a journey for me to let go of my own stories and learn to confine them to fictional characters on the page 🙂

  • Andrea says:

    Love this discussion – thank you all for participating and adding your perspective (story?).

    Patricia – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making past experiences part of our present-life story. I just think we always need to be aware that it’s all just that – a story we are presently using to create our frame of reference. Whether our story is being the victim of adversity, fighting adversity currently, overcoming adversity, or helping others overcome the same adversity we have faced … they are all just stories. Which is fine – and NONE of those stories are our actual identity. They’re just a frame of reference, a construct through which we’re currently operating. And when we’re aware of this, the story no longer owns us – we own the story. And if we need to or want to change it, we can do so without feeling our whole sense of identity going down the drain.

    Slade – I agree with you that the question marks and blanks are so important. That’s what I mean by creating space between us and the stories. We can’t stop the stories, really. But we can create a gap between us and the frame of reference, so that we don’t start thinking that we are the frame of reference we have created.

    An irreverent aside for a second – wouldn’t the “no story” idea be fun at a networking meeting? Imagine going round the circle during introductions and saying: “I AM.” And that’s it. Hee hee. Seriously, what would happen if we didn’t tell a story?

    voipBlogger – welcome! Totally what I was getting at – the story does change all the time. So if we’re terribly identified and bought into our story, the quality of our day is also going to depend on the story. That’s just letting our ego run the show, isn’t it?

    KL – I think that’s a perfect example of how the story can own us, rather than the other way around. We can’t live without stories. I don’t think so, anyway. The ego needs to make up something. But when we’re aware of the mechanism, it looses all power to define who we are, don’t you think? I mean, we love each other’s stories, it’s why we read and watch movies. I just think many people have their whole identity wrapped up in a particular story.

    You make an interesting point about conflict that I hadn’t even considered … I’m going to have to pay attention to the stories in my head today and see if conflict is indeed always present.

    I’m so glad that you voice your thoughts here, even though your blog is down! I’m always happy to see your name pop up!

    Michael – and I would point to your example as a great one of how our story has nothing to do with our true Self – more about the roles we play in life, right? Father, husband, coffee drinker, (gardener! ouch!), commuter … all reflections of the Self, but not the Self.

    Mags – great example. The way you write about your parents’ divorce is kind of the way I feel about my mother’s death. It’s a fact, but there’s no story. Although there are certainly plenty of stories that could be spun around the fact. Heck, I think we can all take events from our childhood and spin huge mountains of blame or victimization around them. Or stories of victory and triumph. Either way, we’re giving power to the events of the past as defining who we are, aren’t we? Or we can just say – I’m creating this story as my perspective right now. I’m choosing it (there it is, Slade!), because it serves me. But it’s not who I really am.

    Thank you all for this great discussion! I’d love to hear more …
    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • Andrea,

    I have a post from last spring (which may be long before you and I discovered one another). I’d love for you to check it out as an extension of this conversation.

    Can I share the link here in your comments?

    The Stories that No Longer Serve You

  • Thanks everyone for your comments. As Andrea says, my stories are just a point of reference for who I am today. I don’t go around identifying myself as all of my experiences. Before I started blogging, I had even stopped calling myself an Incest Survivor because that wasn’t who I was any longer. I only do it now as a point of reference to offer what I have learned about myself because of the incest to others who might need the hope and love that I have learned. We are all so much more than our experiences can define us as. Have a glorious day unless you don’t want to.

  • Andrea says:

    Slade – Thanks for the link to the post!

    Patricia – You know, you brought up an awesome point. Maybe when the story has lost its hold on us, then we can help others find their way out of the story, too.

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • Diane says:

    I truely enjoyed reading this post and all the comments. All the perspectives get me thinking. And appreciating all the thoughtful and caring people out there. I think our stories reflect an experience in our life that has impacted our journey. We do have a choice in what we attach meaning to and how much that also affects who we are.
    I often feel that I have no choice and now realize that I don’t see many of my choices, because I made them so unconsciously.
    That’s my story today and I’m stickin’to it!
    Tomorrow, who knows! You have sparked my creativity and I feel empowered!

    ~Diane

  • KL says:

    Andrea,

    What a fantastic discussion!

    I love what you say about ‘owning’ the story – because it is probably impossible for us to live without stories. I just don’t see how it could be done. So if we must have stories, and we acknowledge that a story is the meaning we ascribe to facts…

    This gives us the power to create the story we need to express who we are.

    In essence, we become scriptwriter for our own lives, instead of allowing life to write our scripts.

    Then, as Slade says, we know that when a story no longer serves us… we can let it go.

    Our stories are no longer who we are, but tools of expression, fluid and shifting as we change and grow.

  • Andrea,

    This reminds me of the situation with the Matriarch in the movie “Cold Comfort farm.” She rules the family by harping on the fact that in childhood she “saw something nasty in the woodshed.” By clinging to the past which is long gone, she limits her growth and turns in on herself, and creates and intolerable situation for her family.

    When freed from her delusion (I love the scene where the movie producer replies to her woodshed mantra with, “Yes, darling, but did it see you?”), a whole new life of travel and adventure opens up for her.

  • Pat R says:

    Andrea – thank you for this posting and Slade’s related post. It gives me food for thought. We need stories for conversation and a tool to connect to one another. The problem is what we do with them and how we use them. I’ll be thinking about this for perhaps a post of my own. Love your fresh insights and topics (hah! stories) to stimulate thought.

  • Andrea says:

    KL – yes, yes, yes! We can just use the story as the tool, rather than the master … you express it perfectly in your last paragraph!

    ReddyK – I haven’t seen that movie, but it sounds like a perfect example of taking one story and making all of our life circumstances uphold that one story. It seems so silly when someone else does it, or when we see it as an extreme example in the movies … but I think we’ve all done the same from time to time.

    Pat – I do think you’re right, we connect to each other through stories … maybe because we get to sample each others’ frames of reference that way? And maybe change our own?

    Thank you all for adding to this discussion!
    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • Andrea, I wrote an article called Blame Keeps You Stuck found at http://patriciasingleton.blogspot.com/2008/01/blame-keeps-you-stuck-incest-may-be.html and linked it back to this article.

  • kirsten says:

    Hi Andrea,

    This is a topic dear to my heart and it’s interesting to read everyone’s take on it.

    Humans have been telling stories since our days in caves. Myth, fairy tales, legends, epics, novels and poetry–they’re all stories we tell to ourselves and each other. It’s a natural impulse to use narrative to make sense of things.

    But you are right in reminding us that we need to be mindful of the nature of our stories. And we need to be mindful of how often we *repeat* certain stories. Repitition creates mindset and mindset leads to action, so telling ourselves some positive stories will result in positive outcomes.

    (Wow, my anti-spam word is “truth”. That reminds me of the Byron Katie’s “Is it true?”)

  • […] No Longer Serve You. Last week, Andrea Hess began a great conversation at Empowered Soul — What is Your Story? Read her original post and the discussion taking place in the […]

  • Michael,

    I’ve responded to your example story on Shift Your Spirits. Click the link on my name above to read Spinning Your Story…

  • Andrea, I loved this post and all the thoughtful comments. What delightful readers you have.

    I once told a big failure story for years. About ten years ago I ended a marriage, lost a business and lost our home. That seeming big failure was my internal story for about 2 years when I only told it to myself. Then I publicly shared it in a speaking engagement and over time little by little it got replaced with other life stories.

    Because I’ve gone through such a big release I’ve attracted many others to my coaching practice who also have. Invariably they first need to get to the point of realizing that they are at choice as to when their big hurt or big failure story needs a re-telling so they can see the inherent gifts.

    This post has encouraged me to be more conscious of the story I’m automatically telling myself. In fact I was inspired to burst out in song, singing that glorious Ray Stevens classic, Everyone is Beautiful in their own way.

  • Andrea says:

    Kirsten – thank you for commenting here. You have a beautiful blog! You’re right, the kind of questioning featured in Byron Katie’s “work” definitely leads to greater mindfulness of the stories we tell. My favorite of them has always been “Is it true?” Thank you for bringing this up here!

    Slade – thank you so much for continuing the conversation on your blog. I hope everyone checks it out!

    Tom – thank you! You bring up that point where we realize that we have a choice – to me, that’s such an amazing place! At that moment, we can choose true empowerment … although along with that comes the knowledge that we are then responsible for the story, doesn’t it? Do any of your clients ever back away from the responsibility? You know, staying attached to the story because it lets us keep doing what we’re doing?

    Sing it LOUD!

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • KL says:

    Andrea,

    You’ve touched on something so powerful here, as evidenced by the number of insightful comments.

    I wonder, what are the stories we’re telling ourselves as a people, as humanity? How can we harness the power of these stories and in doing so harness our inner divinity to create an empowering story for all of humanity?

    What’s the over-arching story of where we’ve been that will take us where we want to go as a species?

  • Andrea says:

    KL – You don’t ask much, do you? I really wished you lived down the street from me, and we could go grab a cup of coffee and solve the problems of the world … hee hee.

    Since you ask, I’ll make some really broad, generalized statements about humanity – ironic, given how I started this post.

    I think we’ve been telling ourselves a story of separation – separation from God, separation from each other. It has allowed us to wage war on others and even on ourselves. The story of separation allows for an “us” and a “them” – as if hurting another isn’t hurting ourselves. Or hurting ourselves isn’t hurting others.

    The healing and empowering story, the way I see it, is One-ness. I am God. You are God. We are One. Each of us is a perfect reflection of Divine Creation – more than that, each of us IS Divine Creation contained within one organism.

    That’s my story, anyway … 🙂 Share yours, please!

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • KL says:

    Yes, yes and yes!!!

    And yes some more.

    Call it oneness, call it union, call it connection, call it togetherness… but whatever we call it, it is only reaching an understanding and more importantly an expression of this concept that will shift us from the old story of duality and conflict, of us v. them, to a new story of…

    Of what…

    How does one express what it’s like to LIVE Oneness.

    Here’s another way to look at it.

    What if we were to ask ourselves before any though, word or deed… is this FOR LIFE or against life?

    And measure whether or not to proceed against that one criteria.

    Andrea, you’ll really got me going with this post… so much so… I’m tempted to tip toe back into the waters and start a new website… Otherwise your comment sections will get longer and longer and longer!!!!

  • Deb Estep says:

    HI KL,

    If the number for completion is 7 and 8 represents a new beginning….
    Check out when this comment of yours posted….

    “Andrea, you’ll really got me going with this post… so much so… I’m tempted to tip toe back into the waters and start a new website”…

    2008 at 8:08 pm

    Maybe… that’s a nudge. 😉

    xo xo
    Deb

    ps….. I wanted to comment on this post, I will … in a few, once I get my brain back together. LOL

  • Ms. Tee says:

    This idea of “reworking one’s life story” is capsulated in Narrative Therapy.

    I’m a grad student (Marriage/Family Therapy) and our program favors this approach because it teaches us to help our clients to change the story they have crafted for their lives and to re create a new story with a more positive journey.

  • Andrea, you asked if any of my clients ever back away from the responsibility. I wish I could say no. But unfortunately the first reaction of many is to avoid facing the discomfort that comes from full awareness.

    Then of course there are those of us who have accepted responsibility and still occasionally pretend like we don’t.

    I find it interesting to realize that our level of self-esteem is directly tied to our level of awareness. Thanks again for this great discussion.

  • Andrea Hess says:

    KL – you know you won’t be able to resist for long! You just have way too much good stuff to say. I love the idea of asking “Is it FOR life?”

    As for living One-ness … you know, sometimes there’s just such a sense of completeness in the Now. Nothing else to do, nowhere else to be, and it’s delicious right here. For me personally, that’s what I try to tap into. I think in order to experience being One with All, we have be fully with ourselves first, yes?

    Deb – Nice!!! Great observation! I am oblivious when it comes to numerology, so it’s always a revelation to have these things pointed out to me!

    Ms. Tee – Thanks for commenting here. You know, I think once we realize that we can rework the story as much as we want, we also will automatically detach from it. I think that the process of reworking would have to give us the sense of being the Creator of the story – and thus be removed from it, also.

    Tom – Isn’t it interesting that we shy away from awareness, when it is really the first step to true empowerment? I agree with you, though – we all have those moments when we wish we could keep our blinders on and pretend our life circumstances aren’t of our own making. But darn it – once we recognize that we’re just pretending, we kind of have to stop, don’t we? 🙂

    That’s an awesome observation – level of self-esteem and level of awareness as reflections of each other. Very true – thanks for pointing that out!!!

    Many blessings,
    Andrea

  • Jen says:

    Hi Andrea – wow…your post here (and the comments that follow) has explained not only how my view of my stories has changed but from another perspective how trying to live a story that was really untrue made me so ill. I am not depressed – but I was. I was not confident – I am. I have had many life experiences that made me feel unlovable…I don’t believe that anymore. Once i put distance between me and the happy family story I was able to see the story apart from the truth. The hardest bit was doing something about it and correcting it. I did it. ‘we know that when a story no longer serves us… we can let it go. ‘…I am living much more in the moment, much less defined by the story – which was a steroptypical one. I can now sing! I am not sure that a failure to become aware was the problem – I knew it was there – I knew i was pretending – for me it was finding the courage to change the script that made the difference – the doing something about it…thats what gets you past blame and projection. Well i think i have got that far at least!

  • Pat R says:

    Andrea – thank you so much for your post. It inspired me to write a post of my own about stories called Plain Talk. I linked your post in it.

    I appreciate the spirit and energy you put out there. Gives us food for thought and is inspirational.

    Thank you.

  • Andrea Hess says:

    Jen – thank you so much for your comment! How wonderful that you were able to “change the script” and step into your power to create your reality differently! I find it interesting that you could live with the awareness of pretense … I had always thought this was the most difficult aspect. But that was, apparently, my story!!! Hee hee. Thank you for sharing yours here!

    Pat – thank you so much. I love that this article started a conversation on other blogs. Here’s the link: Plain Talk

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • […] Hess presents What’s Your Story? posted at Empowered Soul […]

  • […] Hess presents What’s Your Story? posted at Empowered Soul […]

  • […] have already passed, or situations you’re in the midst of — is an act of storytelling, placing a structure on events to give them meaning. Recognizing the structures you’re using will not only give you more control over the stories […]

  • Darioush says:

    My name is Darioush, Today 04-27-08 at 9:10am. I would be trying to kill Negative energy to save my LOVE, powerful as much that my soul would anderstand more the langueage of the INFINIT LOVE, MEHRBABA!
    And I liked to share this movment with other drops of only 1 ocean.

  • […] Andrea Hess of Empowered Soul on the relative non-importance of the stories we tell ourselves. What’s your story? Suzanne Bird-Harris of Learning Curve Coaching on the alignment of body language with intentions. […]

  • […] Hess presents What’s Your Story? posted at Empowered Soul […]

  • […] No Longer Serve You. This week, Andrea Hess began a great conversation at Empowered Soul — What is Your Story? Read her original post and the discussion taking place in the […]

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