The Story You Tell Yourself Shapes All Your Interactions
Every day you play through a list of stories about your relationships, your job, your family, how you see the world, and how others see you. This self-talk has the power to cast doubt about your value and others you interact with. Some of these stories you’ve been telling yourself for so long that finding a bridge out of them seems impossible.
You are human and you are a good person –a person with flaws who’s made mistakes, but nothing too crazy. You are worthy of love and forgiveness. And if you believe this is true about yourself then wouldn’t it make sense that others feel this way about themselves too? Yet we hold others to these high standards of unforgivable actions that they did or said five maybe ten years ago. Since then they have grown, just like you.
The stories you tell yourself about other people or situations in your life trap you and them into a past identity that might not even be true.
Let’s say you had a conversation with your boss three years ago where you felt disrespected. Since then you have been playing a story in your head about what happened. Then every time you need to meet with her you have in your mind that it’s not going to go well and she’s going to say something to offend you and you begin to wonder if you should even bother bringing it up. In your mind, it’s clear she doesn’t like you anyway.
All of this might only be true in your head. In your boss’s mind, she might have just been commenting on a project as a matter of fact, and it was you who took offense to it. Not her being offensive. She might have noticed that over the years you have been cold with her and it’s been reflecting in your work. Then the story she begins to tell herself is that you are an uninterested employee and she begins to treat you as such. Passing you over for promotions and opportunities.
Two stories from two minds spawning from one conversation.
We are all a Collection of Stories
We all have a history of events that have shaped our lives. To you, a friend canceling your dinner date might spring up thoughts of getting left behind in the lunchroom at school. This is your story, not the truth. To your friend, who’s canceling, the story might be that his anxiety is too much and he’s certain it’s a courtesy dinner you didn’t want to go on anyway.
Communication is so important because we are often unclear about the story someone is telling themselves.
It’s important for each of us to remember that we are the thinker of our thoughts, but we are not our thoughts.
We think things that aren’t true all the time. Very often we know they aren’t true but get stuck in a loop based on past beliefs about ourselves, the world, and those whose behavior we know so well.
Once you become aware of these stories you can begin challenging them. I don’t mean replacing the negative with positive or finding the silver lining. No, I’m talking about finding ways to make peace with the story so it no longer has control over your life. This can be done by trying to see things from the other perspective.
A lot of our self-talk is negative and assumes the worst about other’s intentions. How many times have you known the way a conversation was going to go before you even had it? This is because you are looking for those signs and clues that prove your story is true.
Challenging your stories
What if you decided to share with others the story you tell yourself? This might sound scary, and it can be. But here’s the rub…
The stories you tell yourself that keep you trapped in negative self beliefs about your worthiness of love are having a profound effect on your body.
The power of your thoughts can literally show you a future that is worthy of you or trap you into a life you don’t even want to wake up to. Your thoughts shape your environment and how you interact with the world.
When your story is seen from the lens of
- Everyone out to get you
- Your belief that you are not worthy of more
Then that is what you get. These thoughts end up harboring space in your body.
When you feel attacked, or scared, or misunderstood, your body is acting from a fight or flight response. It’s impossible for you to digest food, sleep, or allow your heart to open to love when you are stuck here. This, in turn, brings on inflammation in the body because you are not processing food, or nourishing the body with rest. You become tight and rigid. Your back starts to hurt, your shoulders get tense, and the issues start to compound.
What are the stories you’re telling yourself that are unhealthy?
- That you aren’t smart because of the time in second grade you were humiliated at the school spelling B.
- That you are ugly because of teasing from the girls in middle school.
- That you are unworthy of love because your heart got broken in 10th grade.
- That you can’t hold down a job because you changed careers at 27 and 32.
- That you are camera shy because you wear a size 16.
- That your opinion doesn’t matter because it’s unpopular.
- That you don’t deserve money because you didn’t go to college.
What is the root of your story? And is it worth holding onto as truth? Ask yourself: what’s the benefit of staying with these stories?
The truth is most of us can remember an insult thrown at us in elementary school from some kid whose name we can’t even remember, but don’t hear all the compliments showered in our direction daily.
It’s a matter of what you chose to focus on.
Breathwork is a great tool for shifting that focus. It offers an opportunity to step outside the clutter in our mind, stop the stories in their tracks, and begin a new conversation.
Because most of our self-talk is negative and because this negative self-talk pushes our nervous system into the fight or flight mood, I recommend starting by lowering your heart rate variability (HRV). This helps your nervous system to be balanced and flexible. This can be accomplished by slow mindful breathing, which lowers the number of heartbeats per minute and guides you into a rest and digest state.
This coherent breathing pattern is great for slowing your thoughts and helping you feel more relaxed.
- Start by sitting in a comfortable seated position or laying flat on your back. If you are in a chair, move your back away from any support and place your feet hip-width apart and plant them onto the floor.
- Inhale through your nose for 5 seconds.
- Notice the natural pause at the top of the inhale.
- Exhale through the nose for 5 seconds.
- Notice the natural pause at the bottom of the exhale.
- Repeat this cycle for 3-5 minutes or a minimum of 10 rounds.
After you go through this simple and effective breathing pattern, review the story you’re currently obsessing over and see if you can approach it from a calmer state. Look for the best-case scenario. They must be believable to you, but this is where the work begins; when your body is relaxed and your mind is clear.