- michelle m. davis
Stuck In Our Stories
Since the beginning of time, stories have documented our collective history as well as our personal past. They exist everywhere and are critical to the foundation of our cultures. The Bible, the Koran, and the Torah are collections of religious stories which have guided followers in their life journey for hundreds of years. Aesop utilized fables to teach lessons. And fairy tales are famous for sharing meaningful messages to children. Whenever our family gathers, stories from the past are often repeated, perhaps embellished, but nevertheless told and retold. It’s a way to keep our history alive, remind us of our roots, and perhaps even inspire future generations.
While stories can serve many positive purposes, staying stuck in our stories is unhealthy as it keeps us small. For when we constantly rely on former tales to justify our present or future, we limit ourselves, allowing what was to determine what could be.
Maybe it’s time to take an honest look at what we keep telling ourselves (and others) about who we are, why we are that way, and what we can do.
Is it time to let go of our stories?
This is the exact question I was asked last week by my coach. Of course, my response was fueled with emotions. Let go of my stories? These were the narratives I’d told for years. I’d earned these anecdotes. This woman’s suggestion most definitely triggered me. In an instant, my mood shifted from joy to frustration to anger. I resented her for insinuating it was time to let go of what I held so tightly, what defined who I was and helped others see me as my true self.
Why would I ever give them up? They were important to me and have been instrumental in my path, led me to who I am today. These were the tales that probed me to dig into past, reexamine former decisions, and delve into oh so many relationships. Doing this self-work—which required I own my stories—provided me with numerous aha moments, showed me my shadows, helped me better understand myself and others, and gave me the insight necessary to put together the pieces of my puzzles. I’d come to rely on my stories, and I wasn’t so sure I was willing to let them go.
But the next day, after I cooled off, I asked myself why I responded as I did. Because whenever anything triggers me so deeply, I know someone’s hit a nerve, or perhaps even poked at a still-open wound. Why did this happen, and what does it mean?
In essence, I was being asked to toss my security blankets, those well-worn and comforting pieces of fabric I’d been carrying around forever, into the trash. But could I do this? If I didn’t have my stories to share, how would people understand who I am and why I am this way? How could I influence what others thought about me?
Most certainly, there were times in my life where these stories were necessary. Perhaps I required them to justify my words and actions, so that others could see me for who I was. Or maybe they helped me cope through difficult times, providing a bit of comfort when I faced adversity or uncertainty.
But are these same stories necessary today? Do they still matter? Could they be hurting more than helping? These questions prompted me to do a great deal of thinking.
Do our stories keep us small? Might they stifle our growth? And if so, when is it time to let them go?
I am a storyteller. For me, weaving tales is fun. Creating fictional characters and hypothetical plots allows my imagination to soar. No doubt I love to embed underlying messages and lessons into my blogs and novels. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love to write—I want to inspire, to elevate.
However, while stories in writing are necessary, how important are they in my everyday life? By repeating tales from my past, am I expanding, or am I remaining stagnant, weighed down by the heaviness of what was, what used to be, what is no longer relevant.
Immediately I thought about how often I tell people I had breast cancer. It’s then I realized that unknowingly, I’d attached this story to my identity. But did it define me? And why do I still tell people? That happened almost ten years ago. Do I want them to know my fake breasts are due to cancer, not me wanting bigger boobs? Or might I hope this helps others see me as a fighter, a survivor? Certainly, I did not want to evoke the image of a victim.
Perhaps the question I should be asking is, “What is the purpose for this story?” Am I sharing it to teach, to connect, to inspire—or could I be clinging onto it for some other reason?
Immediately, I knew it was the latter. My cancer story served to justify or explain elements of me, not motivate others. In essence, it wasn’t uplifting. Quite the opposite—I suspected it only brought others down.
But if I let go of my stories, then how will others know what I want them to know about me? Will they like me if they don’t first hear my story, understand the reason I am as I am?
But is that important? After all, we cannot control what others think about us, where we have been, and why we are the way we are. Are these narratives attempts to mold a person’s opinion, hoping to keep ourselves safe, liked, and understood? Yet, more often than not, these overtold tales clip our wings, prohibiting us from venturing into the world, vulnerable as ever, so we can explore, transform, progress.
I’ve come to realize that stories keep us in our comfort zone because the endings we share are always predictable. We know what happens. But what if we were to open ourselves up to a shift in the plot? After all, if we don’t share those safety blanket snippets of who we are, we release expectations and are suddenly free to expand.
After better understanding stories and why I was clinging to mine, I could clearly see that my cancer story—as well as the many other anecdotes I tell—has been holding me back. If I hope to evolve into who I am meant to be, I must release this and other tales.
I guess the challenge lies in recognizing which stories keep us small and which serve to motivate. There are certainly times for stories, both the happy and the sad, as they can help others grow and remind us of our own progress and transformation. However, we must be careful how, when, and why we tell our stories. What details do we include? Are they too personal? Could they compromise another? Is what we’re saying true, or have we slanted our verbiage to make ourselves look better, absolve our guilt, avoid making the necessary changes, or attempt to alter what was?
Most definitely our stories can hold us back and create limiting beliefs. And if we find they’re keeping us sheltered or stagnant, it may be necessary to release them. Thank these tales for their lessons, acknowledge how they once served you, but then say goodbye.
Perhaps they are not gone forever, merely shelved as we take the necessary steps to move beyond our stories. Some day we may retell them again to another. But this time, it will be done in a detached, non-emotional way, as if the main character is not us. And when we do this, we share our tales with a new vibration, one which does not bring the listener down, but lifts them, elevates them with our words.
When we stop clinging to our stories, they no longer define us and subsequently lose their power to keep us small. Mustering the courage to let go of those tales we’ve repeated endlessly opens limitless possibilities. Free from these confines, new roads and unforeseen journeys magically appear, leading the way to amazing transformation.