Most of us carry old stories from our childhood. As small beings on this planet, we watched our families and other important people in our lives for input about how we needed to act to get the love and attention we instinctively knew were critical for our survival. In the process of figuring out how to get and keep our early caregivers’ approval, we accepted information we were told—about our personality flaws, the nature of other people, or the way “the world works” as true.
Three most common, self- limiting stories
The late Debbie Ford suggests that information we gained in childhood solidifies into one of three core stories we come to tell about ourselves—“I’m not good enough”, “I might be abandoned or rejected”, and” I can’t trust” (people, life, God.) Those stories, carried into adulthood, are at the basis of the limitations we set on our lives as well as at the core of the relationship and career issues we face.
Think about it for a minute. Do you hesitate to ask for what you want? That is likely the story that “I’m not good enough” to have what I want or “I’m afraid I’ll be abandoned or rejected” if I ask for anything. Do you find yourself micromanaging or controlling others actions? That often is an “I can’t trust” story.
When those self-limiting stories are triggered by an event or another individual, they typically bring strong feelings of anxiety, fear, or perhaps anger with them. Because those feelings are so uncomfortable, we learned ways to make them go away—by stopping what we are doing and focusing on something else, blaming our discomfort on someone else, or avoiding the situation that triggers them. The problem with this strategy is that it is a short term solution but does nothing to address the core issue. In fact when you avoid facing the story or dealing with it, those beliefs tend to gain strength in your life. The more powerful these stories become, the more they limit your life. If you think you might be betrayed, why would you trust someone enough to fall in love? If you think you might be abandoned or rejected, you may create a more socially acceptable version of yourself for others to see, hiding your true self from view.
Instead of distracting yourself from feeling the uncomfortable feelings, the next time one of those stories is triggered and the uncomfortable feelings arise, try this. Imagine that you are a house with both the front door and the back door wide open. Then get still and say to yourself, “I release my resistance to experiencing this feeling of ……..” As the feeling swells up, visualize it traveling through you–drifting slowly but surely from the front door to the back door and back outside again. Don’t try to figure out the feeling or why it’s there, just let it float through. You may experience a brief intensification of the feeling– like a ball shooting up after being held under water too long. That’s ok, just hang with the feeling and ride it out. Avoid, if you can, rushing the uncomfortable sensation through the house, just let it move at its own pace. The feeling will typically begin to dissipate, leaving a greater sense of calm. If it comes back, just repeat the exercise. You’ve spent a lifetime trying to hold these feelings down—it will take some time to let all of that pent up energy fade.
As you become more aware of those stories, and more skilled at letting the feelings just flow through you, the stories lose their potency in your life. Knowing how to let those sensations of anger, anxiety, or fear pass through you allows you to make decisions based on what is true for you now. After all, that is where you are living, right?
The past is supposed to be a place of reference, not a place of residence!