naming our stories

Naming Our Stories for Helpful Self-Talk April 7, 2015

The stories we live by in our minds can be helpful or unhelpful to our wellbeing. These stories may be based on reality but they also can exacerbate how we feel about our reality by what we are telling ourselves. The stories I am speaking of enlist and entail the self-critic, self-judgments, shaming, personalizing, shoulding, paranoia, negativity, worry, and internalization of what others do or don’t do. Identifying a personal, memorable, even humorous name for this story that encapsulates all of the unsavory things we tell ourselves can help to create distance and redirect our mind’s attention.

For example, one of my clients named his story Darth Vader. We all know Darth Vader is associated with the “Dark Side”, while his opposite, Yoda, is associated with the “Force”. This client was instructed to notice when his self-talk becomes dark with any of the above behaviors and identify that he is “acting as Darth Vader” or say to himself “I’m vadering again” or “It’s just Darth Vader trying to get the best of me” and to summon his “Inner Yoda”, his gentler and wiser story teller.

How can naming our story help? By giving all that we do that is not helpful to our wellbeing a name, it can trigger a redirection to engage in a different and more helpful story or self-talk. There are many new skills that can be learned to combat these behaviors, shift our perceptions, and recognize choices in our lives. The goal is not to avoid or push reality away. The goal is to accept our reality for what it is and do something about it through action if necessary. When sticking with the “comfort” of negative storytelling we in effect hold on to our problems, remain stuck, feel hopeless, lose motivation for action, and are unable to see our choices clearly. These behaviors can result in anxiety, depression, irritability, contempt; you get the idea… By creating space and internal distance we open up creative opportunities that otherwise were not available to us.

Another example from one of my clients who happens to have a touch of OCD is her “I’m a mess” story. When she notices the internal “mess” behaviors of negative self-talk causing her to feel she is not good enough, she says to herself “here I am messing once more” or “Ah-ha, there’s the messy story”. The opposite of this “messy” story is orderly, which implies bringing about internal order by applying skills she has learned from therapy and coaching. She is effectively able to stop her story in its tracks, even laugh at the story because in reality she is not a mess. Then she is able to engage in what she has learned thus creating new habits, rather than obsessively cleaning or continuing to negatively criticize herself. Humor can help break the tension of our negative cycling behaviors and aid our acceptance as opposed to continuing with our internal struggling.

Name your story today and see what happens. Never hurts to try something new.

Aaron Foster

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