One of my biggest insights since turning 60 has been the way repeating stories shape our lives. The older we get, the more of a limitation our stories become, and the harder it is to change them. If you dig into your worries about problems in many parts of your life, it’s likely that a Story is fuelling them.
So what do I mean by a Story? Most of us have one or two major repeating, difficult patterns in our life. We may not be aware of them, we may not call them a Story, but they really shape our experiences. Most often, a Story beings with a major upset in childhood. Our subconscious mind tries to explain and justify that first upset by repeating the situation. See Paula’s Story for an example.
Men always put you down:
When she was a young child, Paula remembers how her Dad was angry and dissatisfied with her Mum, on the rare times he was home.
Paula’s Dad left altogether when she was six, and her Mum became depressed and unsupportive. In adult life, Paula’s partners put her down and left her repeatedly, and she had similar bosses at work.
By her late sixties, Paula had a long history of depression, but eventually realised she was repeating a Story she could choose to change.
This kind of Story is not logical: it’s usually not even something we’re aware of. It’s a primitive survival tool from early years. If you’re still repeating a Story like this when you’re over 60 or over 70, it will be a deeply ingrained habit, and you’ll need a sustained effort to shift it.
You may know about neural pathways: old habits become physically imprinted within our brain, so they truly are hard to change. But the payback to doing so is that it can transform the way you handle old age.
A repeating Story takes away your power of choice, and means that you don’t see situations as they are, because you’re unconsciously shaping them to fit your Story. Changing a major life Story is unlikely to be instant, and you may do well to get professional help from a counsellor or therapist.
Most of us have at least one major Story, and some minor ones. For example, look at your beliefs and habits around money, or food, or health. The self-help process below is designed to assist you in seeing and changing your Stories. Try it on a minor one first!
Self-help process 12: Changing a Story
Set aside at least 40 minutes for this process, and find a quiet time and place where you won’t be interrupted.
Take some long, slow breaths. Make sure you breathe out fully. Let yourself relax.
Now start to remember a few significant experiences in whatever aspect of your life you’ve chosen to explore, or for your life as a whole.
If this is distressing, keep breathing deeply, aim to witness the emotions and let them go.
Now start to look or listen for a pattern, a repeating feeling or Story. Give this time, be patient and receptive. If nothing comes up, go back over the scenes again.
What you’re aiming to find is a simplistic, sweeping statement that feels horribly powerful to you, and probably makes you tense up. A good sign that you’ve found it is words like always, never, can’t, no good.
Be very gentle with yourself, don’t blame or judge yourself for carrying this Story for so long. Be grateful you’ve found the courage to name it and face it now.
The next step is to find an antidote to your Story: a simple, positive statement that you can affirm whenever the negative beliefs come up.
Here are some examples of negative Stories and an affirmation as an antidote to them:
· Men/women always let me down: I fully deserve love and loyalty
· I’m just not good enough: I always do my best and deserve support
· People never respect me: I have all the strength and safety I need
It helps to repeat frequently the affirmations you’ve chosen. And if something upsets you, use the situation to see what Story it’s showing you. Trust that you can change your Story, and choose a happy one.
People love stories: it’s how we make sense of life. So remember, the aim is to replace a negative Story with a positive one. Look for a simple, hopeful statement which lifts your spirits, is easy to remember, and which you can repeat to yourself often. It will raise the prospects of a Story with a happy outcome!