In the book How To Be Awake and Alive, the authors, a married couple who were therapists, write of a young man in their office speaking about his unhappy marriage: “He loved his wife, but felt compelled to criticize her and put her down. As the session continued, he was asked about his parents. He shook his head sadly, saying he was sure they didn’t love each other. He was encouraged to talk about his childhood, and it became increasingly clear that somehow it was important for him to believe that his parents had an unhappy marriage. Not only that, but he had an equally strong conviction that all marriages were bad, including his own.”
The stories we tell ourselves about our lives, about who we are, can empower us or damage us in ways that persist throughout our lives. I have had a heart murmur from childhood but it was not diagnosed till I was in junior high. Up until then, I only knew that I could not keep up with other kids. I wasn’t picked for teams. It took me three years to pass beginner swimming. I felt defective. While I now recognize the feeling and can challenge it when I encounter it, this is embedded in my psyche.
I also told myself I was not very smart. This was based on the fact that science and math were not my strong suits. I excelled at English and journalism and did well with languages. But perhaps along with my belief that I was “defective,” believing I was also not very smart came easily.
The term “narrative therapy” came into use in the 1980’s by New Zealand therapists, Michael White and David Epston, who felt it was critically important for people not to label themselves, to see themselves as “broken” or “the problem,” or for them to feel powerless in their circumstances and behavior patterns. Thus the focus of narrative therapy is on stories that we develop within ourselves and carry throughout our lives. We give meaning to our personal experiences. These narratives influence how we see ourselves and the world around us, thus impacting choices and decisions we make. I look back on opportunities I missed because I didn’t believe myself smart enough or capable enough to give them the effort they deserved.
“The way we tell our life story is the way we begin to live our life,” wrote author Maureen Murdoch. Or, as one saying I recall, phrased it: “Be careful how you speak your life because how you speak your life can become your life.”
So speak to yourself as you would to someone dear to you, with love and encouragement. Be alert to old beliefs that hold you back and challenge them. If necessary, rewrite old “scripts” and develop a new narrative. Discover the empowerment of affirming your own truth.
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Café Bonus: “We all make mistakes, have struggles, even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.” — Steve Maraboli, author and motivational speaker.