The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Human beings have been telling stories since the dawn of civilization—sharing our own or listening to another’s. We love to get lost in stories: Through a film, a book, or a play, we’re drawn into the lives of characters whose heartbreaks and triumphs reflect our own. As a kid, I loved to watch the movie Harry and the Hendersons over and over again; I’d get to the end and immediately rewind to the beginning. There was comfort in knowing that the story could be retold, that it would always be the same.

Stories give us so much, yet our negative stories can be emotional roadblocks. Some stories trap us into thinking certain things about ourselves, and eventually we become our story. Early on, I bought into the story that I couldn’t make money following my dream of being an actor, that I needed to “settle” to survive. As we move through life, such stories stick and harden on us like glue, and we create barriers based on them. One story ties into another, validating the connecting narrative, and we carry these treatises around like a chain of armor. Although some of our stories, however detrimental, might have defined certain experiences or times in our life, they ultimately don’t serve us as we move forward. In fact, they hold us back from becoming who we are meant to be.

This past winter, I began to see that I’d been holding onto some of my stories, and they were making me miserable. I was reminded of my younger self rewinding that movie—but now it was no longer about delightful entertainment, it was a toxic pattern. It was time to get honest with myself and test out these stories. I began to condense them down to phrases that had become deeply fixed in me, mostly without my knowing.

This was one of my most frequently replayed hits: Love is dangerous. Somewhere, early on, I picked up this story up as if from a shelf. It followed me everywhere I went, a gripping novel I refused to put down. I wondered why I could never get close to anyone, why I always felt I had to keep people an arm’s length away in order to protect my heart. I realized that it was because I was telling myself that I was not okay, that I didn’t deserve love.

I was shocked when it finally dawned on me that I had been telling myself this story—and others—all through adolescence and into adulthood. It wasn’t until I spoke them aloud that I began to see that I didn’t need to hold onto them anymore, that they could be rewritten. The beauty is that I finally get to consciously write them. I picked up a pen and jotted down what I want my new stories to be. I don’t have to abide by anyone else’s standards or expectations, or even my own limiting beliefs from the past. I can craft my life fully, abundantly—imperfectly, at times, sure—but entirely my own.

What are your self-sabotaging stories, those tales you keep telling yourself that prevent you from pursuing what you really want? Are you ready to test them out? If so, start by getting clear on what the story is saying to you. Then find someone you can trust—a friend, a companion, a life coach. Together, dream up how you can rewrite your narrative, suiting it to who you are now. If you give yourself the chance, your new story could be a blockbuster.

Samantha Cullen is an actor and yoga teacher who writes a blog, The Yoga of Cake.

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Samantha Cullen, RYT, is a certified yoga teacher and outdoor guide for Kripalu R&R Retreats and other Kripalu programs.

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