In the beginning, there was darkness. Then there was an explosion and you burst onto the scene. From the beginning, you have been living your story. Since you began to experience the world, you have been telling yourself stories. Let’s face it, you have mainly been lying to yourself. Trapped inside ourselves, we are obsessed with ourselves. I call these stories or lies, our personal narratives. Our craving for significance triggers our ego to inflate the importance of the encounter or experience. We want validation and recognition from others for the challenges we have faced. The cultural narrative has shifted from personal responsibility to abdication of responsibility. The media, government, and business communities tirelessly work to propagate this abdication of responsibility. They can’t be blamed for this behavior because they bought the story too! If they realized that the narrative they spread in an effort to manifest dependency, was undermining the foundation of our society, maybe they would reconsider. The story they tell themselves is that they are doing good and meaningful work.
Since the dawn of humanity, stories have transferred lessons from the past and captured our imagination. Paintings in caves are the earliest glimpses into the transfer of knowledge through storytelling. From birth, we begin to fabricate our story. We are the center of our known universe. We obsess over the details of our life. Every interaction with another human is scrutinized and categorized. Every win and every loss is played over and over again. We interweave every interaction and event into a narrative we call us. This happens naturally and without effort. Here is the deal – you made it all up. Yes, it happened. Yes, it hurt. Yes, it was a triumph. Yes, it was overwhelming. After the experience, we begin to reconstruct it. Of course, we only have our own perspective to utilize in the reconstruction. So we seek others that will have our perspective and they help to corroborate our accounting.
After we have adequately validated our story, we use it as a weapon. This is not a weapon we use on others, but one that we use on ourselves. It is sometimes used to move us forward and sometimes used to hold us back. Either way, it is unfortunate that we have allowed the past to be used against us.
Right now, you might be thinking “what are you talking about?”. My parents divorced when I was very young. My father moved to Arizona and I would visit him every summer from the age of 6 or so. Every time I got on the plane to return to Indiana, I would cry and sob. This experience deeply hurt me as a child. This hurt manifested itself in the form of dependence on others for love and happiness. I would get attached to friends and girlfriends. I obsessed over them and easily became jealous. I never wanted them out of my sight for fear they would leave me. I was very needy and had a deep longing for validation. This continued for me through college. Then, I read a book on emotional intelligence. Around that same time, I was exposed to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Covey. My understanding of my responsibility in every relationship began to shift. It has taken years of study and reflection to realize that I was telling a story. The story was about the fear of being left alone. For years, I used this story to unknowingly direct my behavior in relationships. I became dependent on others for my joy.
I have friends that wake up every morning and immediately put on a backpack of regret, shame, anger, and resentment. They wear it almost like a badge of honor to demonstrate the emotional battle scars they carry with them. This regret, shame, anger, and resentment becomes a wonderful excuse for everything that happens to them. These stories hold them back and make them miserable. Maybe they were told they were ugly, so now every time they look in the mirror, they see an ugly person. Instead of recognizing the beauty within, we beat ourselves up. I hate that my hair line keeps receding and for years used a special shampoo to stimulate growth. Finally, I stopped because I took it out of my backpack after realizing that my hair does not define me. I changed the story.
You lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s mistake. What do you do? You could be angry and resentful for the rest of your life. How is that going to serve you? Will it allow you to be the best version of yourself? The best plan for enjoying the life you have left to live is to lovingly remember the good stuff. Honor them in all you do by living. Forgive and share your story as an example for others.
Your husband cheated on you and shattered your confidence and unhinged your reality. What will you do? For sure, be pissed off. But don’t reserve a permanent spot in the backpack. If you leave it in your backpack, it will affect every relationship you have from that day forward. Realize it is a reflection of your ex-husband and not a reflection of you.
Bitterness is poison to the soul. Here are a few steps to turning that poison into the sweet nectar of life:
- Accept it. It happened. There is no denying it, and doing so would be counter to all efforts to overcome the situation. This might just be the most difficult step. We don’t like change and we don’t like endings. Reality is the only place to live. Tell yourself the truth about your situation. “The truth will set you free” is really about us being truthful with ourselves. When we live in truth, we live in freedom. When we live in denial, we live in a prison of our own design. I don’t care what it is – if it happened, accept it. If you need help working through it, I highly recommend getting helped from a trained professional.
- Express it. Journaling is a great way to articulate how you are feeling. Get it out. Talk with a trusted friend or therapist. I would like to offer a word of caution. Misery loves company, so be careful to not just seek validation for the anger, resentment, and ill will you are working through. It is okay to have it, but the end goal is to let it go through expression and not reinforce it through commiseration.
- Learn your lesson. What are the lessons from the experience? What did you learn about yourself? Again, a word of caution here. The temptation will be, assuming you were wronged in some way, to label all people as the same or all situations of that type as the same. This trap creates a dogma that might be difficult to see. The lessons are an important step because we often discover the good. We are more hopeful about the future because we have additional tools to manage ourselves. This is the step that allows an awful situation to serve you into the future.
- Move on. This is the step in which you can permanently remove the burden from your backpack. You have let go of the poison and are ready to invest the lessons. This does not mean you deny the reality of the past, but instead have chosen to use it responsibly. Like it or not, you are the only person that is responsible for your life. It is easy to blame adults when you are young, but this is an unacceptable excuse when you become an adult. Allow the past to serve you.
Every story you tell yourself is a story you have created. The narrative is yours and yours alone. Accepting responsibility for every aspect of our lives is the ultimate demonstration of maturity. Leverage the past in a way that ensures your better future.