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Does any of the following scenarios look familiar? You are unemployed and have been looking for a job for a while or you lost your job, and you tell yourself that you are useless; your colleagues are getting better grades than you in school and you take that to mean you are not smart, at least not like them; you experienced the loss of a loved one through death, divorce or separation, and you tell yourself that you don’t deserve to be happy; you were rejected by someone for whom you had romantic feelings and you believe that you are not desirable; you have been praying earnestly for or about something and the answer seemed delayed. To you, this means that God has abandoned you or you don’t deserve what you are asking for.
Your experience may or may not be listed here, but we are all storytellers. We come up with stories that we tell ourselves (and others) to ‘explain’ the whys of the major events in our lives. And the narratives or stories exist whether we are aware of them or not. Many people may not be aware that how you think and talk about major events in life significantly impacts your personality; the kind of person you become.
When you reflect on a stressful or painful experience you had in the past, do you see it as one of several events of disappointment or failure? Or is it remembered as the moment you discovered that you are resilient? On the outset, it may not seem that the way you relate a story to yourself and others would shape your personality and influence your life decisions. However, it is believed that how you interpret life and tell the story profoundly affects the person you become.
You are your story. What that means is that the stories give meaning to your existence and also provide the basis of our sense of identity. In other words, the stories you come up with reveal deep thoughts and sustain you through time. Personal stories or narratives along with our character traits, values, and goals reflect a fixed part of our personalities.
The stories you tell yourself impacts mental health and overall well-being. In reference to the scenario mentioned above, if you are the type of person who is likely to remember the positives in a stressful or painful event, you are likely to be satisfied in life and enjoy a great sense of well-being. That is, the individual who tells more positive narratives with more accounts of redemption or recovery (for instance, interpreting the loss of a job as the ultimate reason for switching to a more satisfying career) also enjoys better mental health. On the other hand, the individual who tells stories with him or her having little or no control over the situation (for instance, believing the negative words of a verbal abuser) usually struggles with low wellbeing.
As an experiment, some college students were given assignments to write about something that they experienced and to feature more positive sequences, like thinking about how a major failure steered their life in a positive direction. The researchers believed that shifting the ways individuals talk and think about major life events is able to influence how they move forward in life. They found that, when compared to the students who were not given that assignment, these storytellers reported more determination to complete goals and follow their dreams in spite of past and current difficulties. The researchers concluded that the world is simply what people make of it. Psychotherapists use this liberating perspective in assisting people to deal with specific anxieties and fears.
You can rest assured that the story in your head is not the final episode. You can modify the story, not the event or experience, to change the kind of individual you are. It is never too late to go back and revise the stories of your life. Reflect on the major life-changing events and consider the positives that resulted from the negative experiences. I always say if you look back and cannot seem to find anything positive in a situation, if you think hard enough, you will see that you learned something about yourself. And every personal lesson learned is a positive lesson as it is the basis for change, if necessary. Do the homework; choose to change the narrative of your life and you will still have a chance to develop a more healthy and hearty personality.