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The Story of My Life
How Telling Our Stories Defines Our Lives
Jan 26 · 7 min read
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Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash
A casual comment brought me here, to a white page slowing filling up with words. I had tossed out the words “story of my life” in a conversation the other day about a difficult experience, and the words reverberated long after the call ended. Did I really think that was the story of my life?
We rarely throw out that particular combination of words unless it’s about something negative. Was the story of my life having to do everything alone? At times, it’s felt that way. But is that the story I choose to define me? Why can’t the story of my life be something wonderful and happy?
It seems like a small thing until we consider the impact our thoughts can have on our lives. The stories we tell ourselves matter. We don’t just tell them once and go on living our lives. We have stories we repeat to ourselves. They explain how we view the world around us and how we view ourselves. They perpetuate reactions and give our lives meaning. They define the kinds of relationships we have and the quality of our lives. Oftentimes, the stories we tell ourselves prolong trauma and pain.
But we get to choose our stories.
It’s a powerful thought. Of course, this doesn’t mean we’re choosing everything that happens to us, but we certainly have choices in how we respond to events that unfold. While our behaviors get most of the attention, they are based entirely on what we’re thinking.
Maybe I am still telling myself the story that I have to do things on my own. I like quite a bit of solitude, so most of the time, it doesn’t bother me. But, clearly, sometimes it does, or “story of my life” wouldn’t have jumped out of my mouth when talking about feeling the weight of the world and having to experience life mostly in isolation.
From the outside looking in, this doesn’t even seem like a relevant story to me. It probably looks like I jumped from my family home into an early marriage and was married for over a decade. It probably looks like I can’t be alone.
But I felt like a lonely child, and I entered a lonely marriage. I stayed in it until I couldn’t anymore. I’ve chosen in the past to partner people who weren’t capable of being full partners, and I’ve felt the weight of living a life being as self-reliant as possible. It’s a skill and a good one, but I seem to have made it my story.
My story should be about resilience in the face of obstacles. It should be about resourcefulness and creativity. But it seems like I’ve let some of the weight of feeling lonely hijack my storyline.
It’s easy to do. After all, no one is really going to contradict what we tell ourselves — unless, of course, we get a damn good therapist who can help us see the problems in our logic. I had one of those. It took me years to truly apply what I learned, but the holes she’d carefully poked in the stories I told myself finally let in the light.
My outer dialogue might be empowered, but some of my inner dialogue is still running the old script. The hurt inner child and wounded woman still tell their stories underneath. Left unsupervised, they can do untold damage. This is why it’s so important that we monitor our own thoughts and reclaim our power over them.
We feel like we don’t have any control over what we think, but it’s just not true. As a former therapist, everything I ever learned taught me that we have a great deal of control on our thoughts. The problem is usually that we don’t acknowledge or step into that power. We let our thoughts go wherever they want, and if they keep hurting us, we think we’re powerless to stop them.
But there are many things we can do to make sure that the story that we tell ourselves is the life story we actually want to own.
We can practice thought-stopping. We don’t actually have to let negative thoughts continue. We get to be in control here. Dwelling on pain or trauma in an unhealthy way — beyond investigating where it’s coming from and why we feel that way — can be stopped. We can give ourselves distractions or provide some necessary perspective to emotion-fueled thinking. But obsessing about negative thoughts isn’t the path to healing.
We can practice thought-replacement. When we have thoughts that fit the old story versus the one we want to be living, we can simply remind ourselves of the truth. This isn’t some kind of touchy-feely bullshit, and it’s not about lying to ourselves. It’s a practice that allows us to take wild, uncontrolled thoughts and add some adult maturity, reasoning, and perspective.
We can recognize and address our triggers. We all have triggers of some kind that remind us of past emotional pain. If we recognize these triggers for what they are, we can stop letting them control our responses. We can acknowledge the pain of that experience and work on healing it without reacting to a present situation from a past perspective.
We can stop blaming other people for the lives we’re living. If we put the blame for everything that happens in our lives in other people’s hands, we’re centering the focus on a victim mentality and not doing what we can to create change. Say an ex cheated. While that’s on them, we chose to partner them. So, we choose better next time. We learn from it. Hopefully, we figure out why we accepted that kind of treatment and address those wounds. But we can’t really complain it happened again if we went back to dating the same type of person. Unhealed wounds perpetuate behaviors that perpetuate trauma. The pattern isn’t other people. It’s our choices.
We can be honest with ourselves. If the story we’re telling makes us the hero and yet we have people clearly telling us that we’ve victimized them, we might be lying to ourselves. If our stories paint the picture that we’re always right and can do no wrong, something is wrong. There’s always room to learn and grow, and we need to allow for that somewhere in our stories. This isn’t about striving for perfection, and lying to ourselves likely means we’re damaging other people in order to protect our own fragile sense of self.
We can match energy with our support system. If we’re around people who perpetuate the worst version of our lives, it may be time for new friends. People who won’t let us grow and change because they think they have us pegged can’t evolve with us. It may be time to leave them behind and surround ourselves with people who understand that we can’t change our personalities, but we can certainly change our choices and create better lives.
We can select new life stories. Clearly, we can’t just decide we’re millionaires living on our yachts and sailing around the world just because that sounds intriguing. It doesn’t work that way. There’s not a genie in a bottle going to do this for us. But we can decide what we want the story of our lives to be and live that. My story involves writing a lot of books and articles and traveling while I raise two beautiful humans. My story involves loving hard and creating a wonderful life. That’s the story I need to be telling myself. It’s as true as the other, probably more true if I’m paying attention.
The story of our lives is whatever we want it to be. We get to make some decisions about what parts of our stories we tell ourselves and which parts take a backseat to the main events. If we don’t like the story playing out, we get to choose another one. We can choose again and again until we’re happy with the outcome, and we do this by addressing our thoughts and making healthier choices.
The story of my life isn’t loneliness. I just felt lonely, and I wanted to take a temporary feeling and have it describe the whole of my life. Today, I’m tired and a little stressed. I have worries on my mind and a lot to get done. But the story of my life isn’t perpetual exhaustion or overwork. I’m not catastrophizing how I feel or even feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I’m practicing self-care, doing what I can manage and nothing more, and living my life just the way I want to live it.
Because I tell the story of my life. And you’re telling yours. So, if you don’t like it, it may be time to flip the script and make a change.
Read more like this:
What to Expect from Seeking an Extraordinary Life
The universe clears the path, if you have the courage to walk it
The Terrible Price of the Un-Lived Life
I spent years of my life unhappy because I couldn’t imagine what my future would look like if I changed things.
25 Shots of Truth for the Love Drunk
Honest Advice for Those Who Lose Their Heads in Love
Former therapist. Author of the Heart of Madison series & My Words are Whiskey www.crystaljacksonwriter.com https://subscribe.to/crystaljackson
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