Creating a Brighter Story for Ourselves

Creativity is the greatest expression of liberty.

~Bryant H. McGill

I still remember the moment when I realized I didn’t have to believe everything I was telling myself. Yes, I had a story, but I didn’t have to stick to it. Not if it was causing me unnecessary pain, keeping me from moving forward, preventing me from opening my eyes to a new and improved perspective on life.

It was a joyous, liberating feeling. I could create a new story that would benefit me and clear away some of the clouds that had obscured the light I needed to transform a painful situation. I acquired an amazing skill that made my life a little easier. Not easy. But brighter, more hopeful.

The stories we tell ourselves are powerful because they affect how we feel and behave. They determine our identity.

In my younger days, when I was feeling unpopular and inept, I made myself miserable by thinking I should have lots of friends and darn it, people should like me. When I changed my beliefs and assured myself that it was okay to have just a few buddies, I reached out to others whose social skills were on par with mine and connected with the interesting characters I found in books.  And that was enough.

Sometimes the unhelpful story we’ve constructed about ourselves is that we can’t do something or that we need to be full of fear. Those thoughts block our positive energy and deplete our personal power. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

If we suspect that the narrative we’ve developed is harming, not helping us, we can ask ourselves questions like those recommended by Byron Katie in “The Work”:

Is it true?

Are you absolutely sure it’s true?

We can explore further:

How do I feel and behave when I believe that story?

Who would I be without that story?

When we realize that what society, or others, or our own sad self is saying isn’t the final word, we can summon up our courage, compassion, and creativity. We can reframe a chapter or paragraph in our life in a way that will bring peace and inspiration.

Sometimes the tale we are telling ourselves prevents us from moving on from past injustices. One of my favorite forgiveness stories is that of Holocaust survivor Eva Kor, who has been honored as a “Hero of Forgiveness.” For many years the story she told herself was that of victimhood because she was unjustly hurt by Nazis who conducted horrific medical experiments upon her and her twin sister. Members of her family were murdered. Kor had every reason to hate, but she came to this realization:

Hatred is an infectious disease.

She decided the narrative she believed about herself as a powerless victim was prolonging the trauma of her past. Her new story, one of forgiveness, was self-healing and self-empowering. She called forgiveness miracle medicine and said, “It’s free; it works and has no side effects.”

The story we tell ourselves about our pain determines our degree of suffering. When we tell ourselves that a situation can’t change because another person is to blame or we’re not good enough to do something about it, we become weak. When we ruminate obsessively over a past that inevitably remains the same, we are stubbornly refusing to direct our energy toward creating a better future.

Focusing on fault or regret takes us down a detour of defensiveness or shame. It delays our journey to a destination where burdens are lifted, problems are solved, and relationships are mended. One of my favorite anonymous quotes is, “Fix the problem, not the blame.”

When we’re able to control our harmful thoughts,

they lose their power to control us.

Self-control is a virtue encouraged in the major religions along with the goal of “mindfulness.” Being mindful means creating a distance between our thoughts and our identity, realizing our thoughts are not who we are. They are simply thoughts that appear based on a variety of factors such as our instincts, our past, our fears and desires. We can decide what we want to do with our thoughts and create the next chapter in our courageous, compassionate life story.

I’m a writer and it’s important that I edit my work. I go back to early chapters of a book, or paragraphs of a blog, and modify my words so their meaning becomes clearer and more illuminating. As a human being, I can go back to early chapters of my life and reflect on them with grace and the wisdom that experience brings me. I can use my reflections to create new, improved episodes in my life journey.

Creativity isn’t just about art. It’s about the ability to look at a situation from various perspectives and imagine new ways of being. About having the courage to question assumptions and “certainties” that aren’t really certain. About being determined and persistent as we create a story in which we become a person whom we respect.

Thomas Edison created a story that led him to the creation of the first light bulb. He had many unsuccessful attempts at his goal, but that did not deter him. He said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

We will all have struggles in life. What’s important is that we don’t lose hope. That we take what we learn and create stories that brighten our paths and lead us to light.

photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Don’t Change, Become

I’m grateful when my Facebook friends post inspirational, beautiful, or funny things on their pages. A recent post advised, “Don’t change, become.” That got me thinking about the difference between the words “change” and “become.”

If someone tells me I should change, I may feel like the real me is not good enough. That I should try to be someone else. I may ask, “What’s wrong with me? How am I bad or broken? If I’m bad or broken, is there really any hope for me?”

However, if someone talks to me about who I can become, I can create a vision. It’s still okay to be me. In fact, it’s vital that I be me. The genuine me with the potential to learn, grow, and live with purpose. 

When I’m becoming, I can decide what there is about me that I’d like to stay the same, and what I’d like to transform. Being aware of positives, not just negatives, gives us the energy we need to move forward.

Positive humanist psychologist Carl Rogers believed we all need genuineness, acceptance, and empathy in order to thrive. He said, “What I am is good enough, if I would only be it openly.” If we are hiding fears of not being good enough, we aren’t being our true selves. It’s only when we have the courage to confront our genuine feelings and thoughts that we gain the power to transform them.

Reading a devotion before bedtime comforts me and the following passage from James 1: 2-4 (NRSV) was just what I needed one night. The verse said, “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

What an awesome and amazingly difficult way of looking at our struggles. I’m still striving to look at my current woes with joy, but when I remind myself that no inspirational life story is without struggles – and the more extreme the better – I am able to improve my attitude.

Those times when I’ve been humiliated, disappointed, ashamed, or grieving have clothed me with empathy for others and led to insightful moments. I’ve been very happy to shed some of my old judgments that were acquired before I experienced things like: my child being the one throwing a tantrum in the grocery store; my work being criticized and rejected; my assumptions proven wrong.

Experience transforms us in ways advice never can. Experience delivers intelligence in the form of feelings and emotions and goes beyond the simplicity of mere words.  

Becoming means throwing off unrealistic or pointless expectations of how we should appear and what we should achieve. It means being patient with ourselves as we work through difficult periods in our life. Grief coach Maria Kilavkoff explained, “Sometimes we slow down so we can digest the indigestible.”

Feeling broken is awareness that it’s time to challenge beliefs and behaviors that are no longer appropriate for us. We find ways to fix what needs repairing by learning to become more compassionate, generous, respectful, courageous, daring. We take deep breaths, relax, and enjoy being who we are and where we are in the moment.

When we know we’re becoming, and we realize others are also becoming, forgiveness can blossom within us. We feel sadness and hurt, but we accept our feelings and learn to understand where those feelings are coming from and where they are leading us. The beauty of forgiveness is in knowing it’s okay to be who we are, and it’s okay for others, who are also struggling to become, to be who they are.

Becoming requires humility, not humiliation. When we have humility, others no longer have the power to humiliate us because we’re strong enough to accept whatever mistakes we make and learn from them. We refrain from humiliating others because we wish the best for them as they strive to become a better version of themselves.

Humility means having the courage to accept who we are, and the compassion needed to treat ourselves and others kindly. Humility has been called the master virtue because it’s vital in helping us become virtuous.  We don’t close our minds to new ideas or cling tenaciously to what was or what we assume should be because we are no longer defensive. We are excited about who we are becoming.

When I think of the times when I’ve been irritated with someone who is trying to give me advice, it’s because I feel they want me to change into someone they approve of. A friend said she was hesitant about getting help from an organization called “Behavior Management” because she didn’t like the idea that she needed to be managed and said, “It seems like they will be out to control me.” Most of us don’t want to be controlled, but we appreciate people who support us on our journey of becoming.

Of course, when we think someone else should change, “Behavior Management” sounds like just the ticket. The problem is we can only manage our own behavior. Everyone is on their own path to becoming and we don’t get to control the pace or the direction.

Inner freedom blossoms as we let go of the burden of expectations that we or others must change. We find peace with letting ourselves just be and become. We can rest assured that we are who we are supposed to be as we envision – with faith, hope and love – the person we are becoming.