We Live By The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Everyone is talking about storytelling. Usually, they’re referring to stories we tell others – be they personal stories for our businesses, leadership narratives or brand stories.
The stories that impact us most, however, are the narratives we tell ourselves. These tales are spin in the quiet of our own thoughts. Woven together tightly over time these thoughts form a tapestry of beliefs upon which our lives are created.
Some of these self-stories boost us while others deflate us and yet we’re stuck with them because we see them as real. We regard them as our biography and that can be hazardous to our health.
As Bruce Lipton said in The Biology of Belief:
“Our biography becomes our biology.”
So, why would we tell ourselves stories that work against us?
We do it innocently. Often we’re not aware of the layers of stories that we’re telling ourselves. Our personal stories often blend into the background noise of our busy minds. When we don’t acknowledge them, our tales can create stress that leads to physical symptoms.
I discovered that my own unacknowledged stories were creating symptoms in my body.
Three years ago I was plagued by IBS, food intolerances and silent reflux that burned my throat and mouth.
It was like a volcano erupting inside me and send me on a mission to find a solution. I tried about forty different ways to get well. Making dietary changes seemed the obvious way to start so I tried several of these including; The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) by Elaine Godshall, The GAPS (Gut & Psychology Syndrome) Diet by Natasha Campell Mc Bride and the Fast Track Diet by Norman Robillard.
These eating regimens relieved the worst of the symptoms so that I could function and heal. However, they’re pretty restrictive which was fine at home – but required a lot of forward planning to go out. Once I came off the diets the symptoms returned so they weren’t a cure.
As a storyteller and NLP Trainer, I considered that there might be an unacknowledged story at the root of the problem. I wondered what it might be and attempted to mine for it using techniques but I always wound up frustrated and more confused than ever.
The answer seemed elusive.
Perhaps it had nothing to do with thinking or emotions and everything to do with food and lifestyle. That thought would send me back to chasing relief through the dietary regimens. Food restrictions, less tea, sleep, meditation, breathing techniques – I tried it all even enlisting the help of experts which cost a small fortune.
The list of strategies I imposed on myself on a daily basis to deal with the problem was onerous, obsessive and ultimately exhausting. Yet I’d berate myself for failing to stick with it and get well.
In time, the symptoms would calm down and I’d be grateful but unsure what exactly had made the difference. I continued on this merry-go-round for three years, thankful when I got respite from the symptoms.
I managed to create a better work-life balance in spring 2015 and gradually the symptoms reduced but would flare-up now and again.
Then, one day the symptoms returned despite me being reasonably well for several months. The flare up continued for a week. I was befuddled and frustrated because nothing had changed. So why the return of the volcano?
And then the answer came to me.
I noticed feeling the way I had when the symptoms began almost three years earlier and saw that I was running a background story about certain business relationships.
In the story, people were directing hostility towards me. The pictures in my mind were of faces contorted with anger and I was being blamed. It’s the same story that I’d been running when the symptoms first started.
I’d given meaning to other people’s behaviour and taken it personally.
In time, I discovered that it was true, these people were tense and looking for someone to blame. With my over-conscience nature, I was telling myself a story in which I was the villain – mea culpa for not going out of my way to make them ‘happy’. And the story I was telling myself was creating stress in my body that was manifesting as physical symptoms. In the past, I had exhausted and neglected myself to make other people happy. However it wasn’t truly about making other people happy – there was an agenda, a so that attached to it. I when out of my way so that people would like me and want me.
So did I do with it?
Well drum roll…wait for it…absolutely nothing. I didn’t need to. Once I saw that I was running a story that painted certain people as being hostile towards me, the cat was out of the bag so to speak. Just recognising it took the power out of it.
The story was creating the uncomfortable feelings and in turn the painful symptoms. I didn’t try to make it go away because that would have been fueling it with attention. I chose instead to throw myself into some creative projects that I had on the go. Engaging in activities that brought me joy, naturally pushed those thoughts into the background and soon I was symptom-free again.
Our stories change with new awareness. We disentangle from them and we’re free to take ourselves down a new path from which a more deliciously nourishing story emerges.