“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”
~ Brené Brown ~
Why don’t we own our stories?
We so often make ourselves smaller in the way we show up. Leaving out aspects of our experiences, making our lives look more bland, more like others, seemingly more attractive even though it isn’t us.
Concealing the things we think are unforgivable, that we think will reveal us to be unacceptable.
We protect ourselves from the risks of too much attention, the possibility of disapproval, criticism.
Hiding from ourselves, not wanting to look too closely at what we perceive to be failures, ignoring the truths about ourselves and our behaviours. Guilt and shame are powerful emotions that keep that door shut.
The richness in our stories
We lose the juicy, colourful parts of our stories when we edit out in order to fit in, please others, hide the truth from ourselves. Interestingly, one way to access and allow these unseen parts back in, are stories.
Tales through the ages were blueprints for our own lives. Full of archetypes and symbolism to guide our subconscious on its path through life’s stages and challenges.
The deep meaning and guidance, hidden in metaphor, was something essential in order to be able to see ourselves, understand, accept, and mature.
These days you likely search out the same experience, in the transformative effect of a moving film or novel. Something in the depths of you responds and feels seen and accepted, leading to integration.
When things fall into place and we no longer reject them or hide them, we can include them in our stories.
Standing up to yourself
The most important person you want to own your story for, is of course yourself. How you see yourself is how you’ll tell your story to others. We tend to be our own worst critics and deciding to be on your side is the first step.
The fact that we don’t have our own backs is so sad, right? Criticising and seeing ourselves from the most unflattering angles. Deciding to own not just your mistakes and shortcomings but your successes and strengths will take some courage.
It might feel hard to work on the suggestions below so remember that you’re challenging a whole lot of cultural and social norms and pressures here.
Practising owning your story
1. Begin in small ways. Practice on smaller issues, standing up for yourself when you’re critical of something you could have done better. Tell yourself – yes I could have done that better and perhaps I will next time. Right now I choose to see it as a lesson in being imperfect. Or, allowing yourself to look at something you’re tempted to ignore. Tell yourself – yes I feel ashamed of that, and perhaps I can make up for it. Right now I choose to see it as a lesson in imperfection.
2. Imagine a friend doing the same thing and how you would respond to them. Would you see it as a shortcoming? How would you see their story? What would you tell them?
3. Another way to practice is to write your story. Your fairytale if you like. From the very beginning, with all the ups and downs of the hero’s journey. The ordeals that you had to go through to learn the lessons. The purpose of the experiences and the sense of meaning to your life that they brought. See if things looks clearer written down.
4. Acknowledge what you have gone through in your life. The painful and the pleasurable, what you’re proud of and what you’re ashamed of. All of it, all that has made you who you are. Honour it, purely because it’s your story and it’s your beautiful life.
5. Realise that you can’t possibly know that the things you see as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are just that. Life is incredibly complex, interwoven and full of mystery and isn’t that a wonderful thing? With our limited minds we can’t see the whole story but we can choose to see the beauty of it.
This is one of my favourite old stories, retold by Alan Watts.
“Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.”
The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”
The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.”
The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”
Owning your story, deciding to find your meaning in it and standing up for it, takes courage and patience. But it’s worth it for the richness and beauty that comes with living it.