Whether we are aware of it or not, each of us has a story we live by. These stories are wired into our brains. They are made up of experiences that told us who we are and how we should show up in the world, including what was modeled for, said to, and expected of us. Most of us have aspects of our stories we would like to change and many of us would like to change the story altogether. While we can't change what was said or done, we can change how we think about ourselves. Essentially, we can tell a new story.
Telling a new story means sorting through our existing story or identity and deciding what should stay, what needs reframing, and what needs to be left behind. It is a process of claiming our identity for ourselves. Instead of living according to who were told to be or what is expected of us, we decide what aligns with who we are deep inside.
In his book, Anatomy of the Soul, Dr. Curt Thompson explains when we tell our stories, sorting through the pieces, keeping some and letting others go, we actually rewire our brains for a new version of the story. We train our brains towards healing, forgiveness, and making peace with our past. Most of the time, the story needs to be worked and reworked. Knowing our true identity is a transformational process that requires us to trust the journey.
I am still in that journey. The main parts of my story that I no longer wish to define me have been reframed, and each day is an affirmation of that reframing. Not all days align with the new story. In fact, there are moments I find myself deep in the previous version of the story wondering how I regressed so far back. This happens and it's okay because it takes time and practice for our brains to rewire into believing the new version of the story as our truth.
Here are three steps I practice as needed to tell a new story and rework that story when I get stuck or the old story takes over:
1. Change out the negative labels and messages from your past. I shared in last week's blog post "The Words That Shape Us" how I changed stubborn to determined, strong-willed to tenacious, emotional to empathetic, bossy to delegator, and dramatic to expressive. I chose empowering words to replace the words that caused me so much pain and defined me in a negative way for many years.
2. Claim the benefits that came out of the negative experiences. Whether your past happened to you or you made choices you weren't proud of, consider what those negative experiences shaped in you for the better. I have a resilience and strength I would not have if not for my childhood. I am able to love people right where they are at because of all the healing and forgiveness work my past prompted me to engage with. Would I rather those skills and character traits have developed out of positive experiences? Of course, but they didn't, so I celebrate the fact they happened no matter the catalyst.
3. Write out your new story. When we put pen to paper, it helps our brains rewire more quickly because emotions flow as we write by hand and we create a visual that reinforces the story. Engage your imagination. Ask God or your intuition or whatever energy you are connected with to give you a new picture of your past. I have done this many times and every time I bring up a past memory filled with uncertainty, violence, and chaos, I receive a new picture of how God's presence was in the midst of it all bringing as much love, light, and protection possible while still allowing each of us to maintain our free will to choose our own path. That empowers me to write a new version of the story, one where my family's pain is included and honored as well as my own.
Our stories are powerful. They drive our daily choices, how we relate to others, and with what level of vulnerability we live our lives. They are worth reworking and writing anew because we are worthy of freedom from being defined by experiences, words, and actions that made us question our worthiness.