If you were to pick a genre for the story of your life, what would it be? A romantic comedy? Action? Psychological Thriller? A horror?? The stories we tell ourselves about the lives we lead deeply impact the way we view ourselves and our outlook.
Rereading Your Story
Since our story matters so much it is helpful to really look at what our story is and put words to it. Just think about it for a moment. Take some time to write down the 5 most significant events of your life. Think about the story you tell yourself about these events.
- Start with identifying the type of character you play. Are you the victim, the hero, the villain or some other character? How does viewing yourself in this manner affect the way you lead your life?
- Now think about the events themselves. Out of all the experiences you have had, you chose a certain 5 to be the most significant. Is the road through these events what psychologist, Michael White, calls problem saturated?
- How do these events change how you see the world?
- What meaning are you giving these 5 experiences and how does this meaning direct how you see life in general?
- What was the moral of the stories? How has each event impacted your rules for life?
Have these events created a limited view of yourself? Do they influence your poor decisions? Have these memories created an unhealthy sense of your own identity? If the answer to these questions is no, maybe you should take another look at the autobiography that you have written.
Find the Missing Pieces
One vital question that you can ask yourself when thinking about your perspective is “Am I omitting something important from my story?” Though you placed a high-level of importance on the meaning you have given these events, decide if there are other events or alternative interpretations that can tell you a different story about yourself. Challenge how you have allowed these stories to form your core beliefs. Often, people will generate beliefs from places like early life experiences, values from their family origin or intense turning points like tragedies. From that point on, they unconsciously sift through their experiences going forward looking only for the ones that confirm their existing beliefs. The problem is that there are so many facts missing from their limited point of view. They never see the full picture.
Don’t Ruin the Ending!
Omitted facts and narrow perspectives can have serious effects. Imagine a young high school honor student who gained a low SAT score. She always saw herself as intelligent with a passion for learning until that point. But after perceived failure, she then built a belief about herself that she is not smart enough to succeed.
She starts limiting herself by taking easier college courses that she believes she can pass, afraid to challenge herself. She graduates and gains a steady career. Her bosses see her potential, but she passes up promotions not believing in her skills and abilities. One day, she is reprimanded for missing an important deadline. “See! I knew it. I’m a failure”, she declares. Her mind is turned away from any evidence against this belief, like graduating college, establishing a career, or being offered promotions. All she sees is the same failure she identified with in high school. Does this story sound familiar? If so, you might need to turn the page on your thinking.
To live a full and meaningful life going forward, think about changing the meaning you have given the life you have already lived. Rewrite your story.
Supervised by Dr. Amy Fuller, PhD, LMFT-S, LPC-S