The stories we tell ourselves
“With our minds, we make the world” - Buddha
I have heard us humans described as “story making machines”. It’s what we do to make sense of the world and of our experience. As soon as something happens to us, we start to think how to describe it, how to communicate it. We give it a beginning, middle and ending. We find reasons, an explanation for why things happened the way they did. In our drive to make sense of the world, story gives us a way to understand. It’s also one of the reasons why Instagram and Facebook are so successful; we love to tell stories about our lives.
The stories we tell ourselves are powerful. They have a profound impact on how we feel, the way we behave, the choices we make and the way we respond to the world. They shape our lives. But have you ever stopped to wonder if the stories you are telling yourself are true? Where do they come from? Are there other stories you could make from the same set of facts?
You apply for a job and you aren’t offered an interview. What do you tell yourself? That you aren’t good enough? Does this lead you to lose hope and turn away from the job of your dreams? What if you weren’t offered an interview because your application had been lost? Or because the company had already decided on an internal candidate?
You see friends from work in the pub, and you weren’t invited… do you think they don’t like you and start avoiding them, hurt at the exclusion? Yet maybe no one was invited and they bumped into each other on the way home and decided on a quick drink.
It’s very easy to conclude we are being rejected, slighted or ignored. This can raise angry or painful feelings and even prompt us to withdraw, or provoke us to lash out at others. But often something else is going on to that which we have assumed.
We often tell ourselves versions of the same story, that keep us trapped in the same way of seeing ourselves, the people around us and the world. They keep us trapped in repeating patterns.
We learn our stories as children, from our family, from our culture, from our experiences. These stories are adapted, added to and sometimes strengthened by our experiences as adults as we interpret events in line with our pre-existing narrative.
Our stories are so familiar to us that we often don’t question or challenge them, our mind presenting these stories, these possibilities to us as fact. The good news is that self enquiry can help us to understand the stories that are running us and help us start to see them, to open up new possibilities and ways of looking at ourselves and the world. Tomorrow’s story doesn’t need to be the same as today’s. If our minds truly do make the world, the power to change lies within.
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About Joanne Strong
Joanne Strong MSc MBACP is an accredited counsellor & psychotherapist working in private practice and the NHS. Joanne currently runs a private practice from a wellbeing centre based in South East London.