I wanted to talk with you today about our stories and the different ways our stories play out in our lives as we draw them from the past into our present. So, here we go…
What is your story? Is your first response to ask yourself, “where do I begin”? There’s so much, right?
Do you start from the beginning? Do you dive back into the past? Is that where you want to go? Does the past play a part in the present? Should you bring it back up? Does bringing it up affect you right now? Is it relevant to what’s going on?
The answer? Sometimes yes and sometimes no.
The past can be very revealing. It offers us answers to what we currently believe about ourselves, others, and our life. It’s important to go there as a reference point. The past can provide context. If we look at a situation from our past with open eyes and an open heart, we can see where we formed beliefs, patterns and habits and we can decide if we want to hold onto them or if we want to change them. The past can show us what we no longer want and show us what we want instead. The past is our history – the study of past events. History shapes who we are, but it doesn’t define us. It can be illuminating and propel us forward when we are in a place to review it objectively.
Sometimes, we have a very strong emotional response to a past event, regardless of the length of time that’s passed. In these cases, we’re not ready to get into the study of it without the influence of our personal feelings. This is when you know it’s time to fully experience the emotion from the past event. Don’t try to make it go away, don’t resist it, but be with it. Feel it completely. It won’t last forever. Emotions shift and change with our thoughts. When we’re able engage with the feelings, we find ourselves on the other side of the emotion and are more willing and able to view the situation objectively. From there, we can decide what we want to make it mean.
When we resist the emotions we have to a particular circumstance, we can find ourselves stuck in the past and this is where we can get into trouble. When we bring the past with us into the present and we’re emotionally tied to it, the past can feel as though it is happening right now. This scenario can be helpful when the feelings are positive and serve to bring us into a better emotional state in the present moment.
However, more often than not, we bring a difficult situation from the past into the present to “prove” why we are where we are, why we can’t do or be something different, or why what we want will never work, and this leaves us feeling negatively about ourselves, another person or the situation. It lessens the possibilities we see for moving forward, for feeling better and for getting what we want. Holding onto our history, the difficult emotion and the negative meaning we give it, holds us back from taking the steps toward change, growth and the results we want in this life.
It was just over six years ago that I lost my loved one to suicide. For the next year I went through the range of emotions and the phases of grief in losing my spouse, I worked through the logistics of the practical items I had to take care of, I learned how to tell people about what happened and to deal with their reactions as well as mine, and I began to see how the experience of this loss was affecting my ability to move forward (or not) in different areas of my life. I didn’t know what to believe about my story, my life, who I was, what I wanted to be, and what others believed about me and my experience. It all seemed so daunting, confusing and consuming. I felt blame, shame and the stigma of my experience. I felt these on a personal level and from external sources as well. I was definitely IN the emotion of my experience, but I wasn’t sure how to let it flow through me. I was navigating my experience in uncharted waters. I decided to try therapy in the hope that it would bring some peace and guidance for how to get through it.
Initially, I began with my story. I went back into the past and explained what had happened, where I had been, and what it had been like for the last several months. This felt useful in helping the therapist understand more about me. Unfortunately, that’s where the progress stopped. I continued on for a few more sessions, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was just telling my story and sharing little nuances that hadn’t been divulged before. I was tired of my story and continuing to repeat it kept me fully ensconced in the old feelings and experiences. I was not gaining any traction for feeling better and getting the results I wanted.
After five sessions, I decided that method wasn’t for me. I wanted to feel better. I wanted answers. I wanted to know that I could change my life, even though I wasn’t sure what that meant. I was willing to look at myself and make changes, but I realized that staying in the story – reliving it in the same way over and over – kept me stuck where I was. There had to be a way to feel better and I was going to find it.
Life coaching was my next step. I began the coaching sessions the same way I began therapy – with my story. This was the only similarity. My story was used as a reference point, a context for how I’d gotten to where I was and from there it became my launching pad. Life coaching showed me how my thinking was directly related to how I was feeling and to the results I was getting. I learned how I could use my thoughts to create better feelings. In feeling better, I began to approach things with a new mindset and take different actions which led to more positive results.
I learned how to use my story to help me rather than to hold me back. My story is mine. I own it. I haven’t let it go, but it no longer holds the power to mean anything harmful or negative about my life and who I am. While I cannot control many of the circumstances I have in my life, I know I can control how I respond to them. I am no longer at the mercy of life happening to me, because I have the power and the ability to choose what I think, how I feel and what I make it all mean.
This doesn’t mean that I no longer feel negative emotion. I do and I choose to. It’s important to feel the full spectrum of emotions that come our way. Feelings are our guides. They show us what we want, what we don’t, what’s working and what isn’t. I still have emotion about this story – sometimes the feelings are painful and sometimes they’re joyful, but they are always empowering because I know I’m in the driver’s seat.
This is the key to it all.
P.S. Are you stuck in your story and ready to change the way you think about it? If this is where you are and you’re ready to find out how coaching can work for you, let’s chat. Book your free 30-minute mini-session with me here.