The Stories We Tell Ourselves

‘Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded’ Gautama Buddha

Thoughts are just that: thoughts. They’re not facts or artefacts. They’re not necessarily true or correct. But, boy, are they powerful!

I believe storytelling and listening to stories is part of what makes us human and it’s something people have always done. We do it to make sense of our world and how we experience it.

As a writer, stories are my thing. I love the whole process of crafting a story from initial thought to finished novel.

As a reader, I love to be told a story, to be transported, taken out of myself by someone else’s thoughts and words.

But there’s an aspect of storytelling that’s not so positive and not so enjoyable. And that can be the uncrafted, unedited stories we tell ourselves.

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The Story Goblin

Many of us succumb to the goading and taunting of our own thoughts. I know I do. The story goblin in our heads knows all our baggage, all our triggers, all our awful ‘what if’ scenarios and it’s all too ready to jump right in there and take control. Next stop: horrible, out of control anxiety or a drastic drop in self-esteem.

However, if we’re aware of what’s happening, then we can take back a bit of control. Otherwise those powerful stories will sabotage us and may seriously affect our mental health.

While it’s true we can’t control everything that happens, we do have some say in how we react.

So if you make a mistake, or get hurt, or are presented with a stressful or unfamiliar situation, it’s healthier not to go off on one. Don’t follow that goblin down the route to ‘I’m such an idiot,’ or ‘I should have expected it and I deserve it’ or ‘this is going to end unbearably badly’.

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Edit or delete

So what can we do? How can we get a bit of control over the stories we’re telling ourselves? Well we can:




Redraft and reshape

Show yourself some compassion. Forgive yourself. And don’t have catastrophe mode as an automatic, default setting. Be realistic.

We can’t prevent our thoughts. We all have them. We can’t function without them. But we can employ an inner editor. We can decide on what are the useful, truthful and inspiring stories. Yes we can still get stuff wrong, hurt or be hurt, find ourselves in scary situations, BUT we are also the editors of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. We can control our reactions. We can shape our own stories.

Are you stalked by a version of the story goblin? Or have you learned ways to be the active author of the stories you tell yourself?





Rattle the Cattle Grid of Life

Sheep in front of a cattle grid – looking over...
Image via Wikipedia

The usual advice for us anxious, worry warts is to focus on
the present – to be mindful only of what is going on right now. After all, the
reasoning goes, the past can’t be changed and the future can’t be predicted, so
fretting is pointless.

I was reminded of this advice when driving to work
yesterday. My mind was full of the, now imminent, deadline for moving out of
our house, the fact that we have only a very short term rental property lined
up, the many items on the to-do lists, the setting up of a new mortgage
agreement and lots of other things to do with this most stressful of life
events. Then, once well and truly worked up into a highly anxious state, I was
able to catastrophise (is that a word?) about lots of other unrelated events
and to beat myself up about things left undone or done badly.

I had a word with myself and tried to call up the anti-
anxiety techniques I’ve recently learned to combat these horrid feelings. As I
drove along and did my breathing stuff, some ewes and their lambs appeared around
a bend on the track. This is a common occurrence in the crofting township where
I live. The best tactic is to slow down but keep driving and they will move out
of the way when you get close.

Before I got to them, however I had to cross the metal
cattle grid. It rattles loudly when cars cross. And the noise my car made was
enough to scatter the sheep onto the verges before I got to them.

And the bonus was that my anxieties disappeared off to the
periphery as well – as I focussed on the more immediate clear and present

Being the arty-farty creative type, I felt a metaphor coming
on. In life – as in driving – it’s best to focus on where you are now. Only take
brief glances in the rear view mirror and keeping moving forward.  Take most account of what’s in front of and
around you in the immediate vicinity and make calm assessments of what’s
visible in the middle distance. And, yes the bin lorry or a logging rig may be
coming round the next bend on the single track road but you’ll deal with it
like you always do if and when it happens.

And, make no concessions to groundless fears or death-wish
sheep – just drive purposefully over the cattle grid and see them off.

Ah, that’s better – I do enjoy a good metaphor – anti-psychotic
simile anyone…?