The Stories We Tell Ourselves and Others

It is a quiet and reflective Sunday evening, home after four days away with a dear old friend, savoring the sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Miami. Our minds adrift, able to momentarily escape the pressures and responsibilities of our day-to-day lives, we spent our days and hours catching up on life and exchanging endless stories – of our past, of our present lives, and of our dreams for the future.  There was laughter, joy, and cautious optimism about the future, sandwiched between brief pangs of sadness, anger and disappointment, too (mostly mine).

From time to time, I would catch myself lingering with my words for a moment, mindful of the impact they were having on my mood and perspective.  There was one moment in particular; one in which we dwelled a bit too long on the subject of my divorce, and of other losses and disappointments since that time.  I could feel myself beginning to shift – away from the exuberant positivity that had colored our earlier conversation, to a more somber and debilitating note; one that for a moment, I allowed to rob me of my joy and steal my confidence in the future.  I could feel the tension rising…fear taking hold of me, my energy quickly draining.  I closed my eyes and remembered to breathe.  I raised my hands palms up with fingers touching, and simply said to myself, as if in deep meditation, “enough.”

Increasingly, I’ve become aware of the power of the stories we tell ourselves and others; of the energy created or depleted, simply by our choice of words, tone, and the stories we choose to tell.  Our words, our thoughts, and our actions…over time, they become the lens through which we view the world.  As my new friend, Noah Blumenthal, so poignantly writes in his book, Be the Hero (http://www.be-the-hero.com/), the stories we choose to tell – about others, ourselves and our situations – have the power to enable us (or even others) to become the heroes in our own lives, or forever play the victim.  It is a choice we make every day – not dictated by the external events or relationships in our lives, but revealed largely by our attitude and by the way we frame the lessons of our lives, including our hopes, struggles, dreams and disappointments.  It is how we choose to react to life and respond to others, whether with gratitude and empathy, or with self-pity and bitterness.   Ultimately, the stories we choose to tell reveal the actions we are willing/unwilling to take, to make a real and lasting difference in the world.

I’m curious…

Have you ever taken time to step back and away from yourself and listen to yourself speak?  Have you ever reflected on the stories you tell yourself?  Have you thought about the stories you tell others?  What do your words reveal?  Do they energize and uplift, creating an air of optimism and hope, or do they re-enforce anger, bitterness, despair, or heartache?  Do they build others up, or breakdown and destroy?  Do you give people the benefit of the doubt, or assume the worst?  When scared or full of self-pity, have you ever re-framed a thought or a story and by doing so, changed the outcome of your situation?  What power do words and thoughts have in your own life?

4 thoughts on “The Stories We Tell Ourselves and Others

  1. Sharon,

    Thank you for making me stop and think this way. I love this post. How right you are about the power of stories.

    Our stories, our memories, are the foundation that each of us build upon.They are a powerful source of energy and an ancient way of communication and art. Stories hold so much, they can invigorate, build and mend, they can teach, give hope, bring humility, kindness and love. Stories are the foundation of humankind.

    As I have grown and watched the world through my perspective lenses, I have seen stories build people up, and pull people down to their bare foundation. As I have matured and grown, I have gained inner strength from many stories, good and bad. They are huge building blocks, there to teach, learn and grow with, to find better understanding within ourselves.

    In looking back at stories and recalling them (even the ones that I was not so proud of) it is within, or perhaps under those bad stories that I have found that better person that I know I can be. WhereI have found that inner strength that is in all of us to lead our lives from within.

    When scared or full of self-pity, it is always easier to reach for anger and hate to hold us up, but these are just temporary measures, and time eventually destroys even those crutches. It is never easy to push through, to look humility and honesty in the face, to accept that we make mistakes and to go on, to build upon the lesson that the mistakes brought.

    It is also that type of story that transfers an amazing amount of strength when told. The bitter person that awoke one day to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That took that stone of self-pity, and instead of throwing it in anger, turned it over and revealed the gem underneath, the hidden lesson to power them to live what was once but a dream.

    We are fascinated with stories, history is full of them, Hollywood, sports, science and politics overflow with them. But the best ones are our own personal stories. Those stories should be told and re told, passed along with the lessons within.

    Words and thoughts are our lives, we live with them, and die with them. What power do they have in my life. For me they are the brushes and paint for the canvas of my life.

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    • Simon,

      What a truly beautiful and heartfelt response…thank you!

      Our thoughts and words are indeed very powerful and should be chosen carefully, thoughtfully, and deliberately. I especially love the idea of thoughts and words as the brushes and paint for the canvas of our lives. In this respect, perhaps it becomes easier for others to see the impact that our choice of brush(es) and paint can have on the picture we ultimately paint. Will your life have the fluid transparency of a fine watercolor, the densely layered and textured composition of an oil painting, or the simple boldness of a black and white pen and ink drawing? Perhaps the same story behind the pictures, but portrayed in vastly different ways.

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  2. Simon & Sharon…

    First, I write now to get a considered comment back from Simon! Always such a pleasure. And Sharon, such a gift you sharing your story and thoughts…. I have a book somewhere called “Love is a Story” and the point of it is that many people do NOT get into a love relationship, instead they find yet someone else to enact/re-enact a Story. A certain way in which they are not actually loved (from the heart) but instead circle each other in scripted patterns of one type or another.

    So thank you both for the reminders. The pause in the day to deliberate and renew…

    Josepf

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    • Josepf –

      I agree with your remark about Simon’s comments. His thoughts and words are indeed a pleasure to read and reflect on.

      I’m curious now to read the book you reference. I’m forever curious about the stories we tell ourselves & others…the stories we live out, whether circling another in a scripted pattern as you describe above, or truly surrendering in love to our deepest selves, and/or authentic relationship with another.

      Thank you for adding your own thoughts to the conversation. Always a treat!

      Sharon

      Like

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