During my therapy sessions I often ask, “Would a video of your life match what you are telling me?”
Therapy sessions are rife with patients who’ve sold themselves a bill of goods. A graph of their actual lives would look like a stock market chart––a series of highs and lows, including severe peaks and valleys. But they don’t see it that way. Instead they focus on wonderful descriptions of family members, friends and others who have touched their lives. Talk about creativity.
It happens all the time. C’mon, making your life sound interesting doesn’t camouflage reality. You’ve told the story to yourself so many times that you believe it’s true. You’re hooked on it.
Stories we tell ourselves don’t change how we feel. They alter our perception of reality. If ten people witness a particular event, several will describe what they saw differently. And the stories will have more bells and whistles over time.
Then there are dejected patients who sit with their chin attached to their chest during therapy. “Why open the blinds, it’s always gloomy outside?” a patient asked. I replied, “Have you forgotten the good things you’ve experienced?” I said, “You are not a failure. The world isn’t against you.” I encouraged him to take a different perspective, see things in a different light. “You are more accomplished than you think.”
Patients and therapists have to be on the same page. I tell my patients, “You will have a better understanding of reality and feel a lot happier. But, in order to get there we have a little work to do. The details of your present life matters the most. You can’t have a good day if you’re hell-bent on telling yourself otherwise.”
In a way, the self-talk we accept narrows our perspective. The story we tell tends to be all we see. If you let a negative past experience narrow your perspective of today, a defensive reaction takes over. We aren’t comfortable with uncertainty. Our mind conveniently triggers a cozy story we enjoy telling.
Subconsciously we try to make better sense of everything in the present by using old stories. While this might work at times, old stories that are completely irrelevant to the present moment hurt us far more than they help us.
Old stories that have lifetime appointments in our minds belong on a back burner. Separate them from the life you are living. It’s okay to retain what might be useful, but discard the rest. Realize that the past is ancient history. You will live a better life by keeping the stories you tell in the here and now.
You are the author of your life story. It’s an autobiography. Why worry about people who judge you by a chapter where they were in your life? The story is about you and the ending is yours to decide. Make it a strong one.