The Stories We Tell Ourselves


I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which we narrate our lives, the stories we tell ourselves. And that the stories we tell ourselves are usually based in lack. “She doesn’t like me, he thinks I’m stupid, I have nothing to offer.” As well as financial lack, lack of support from friends, the examples are endless. But the theme is always the same, the ways in which one’s life, or oneself is not good enough.

These stories are initially told unconsciously. They are so subtly lurking in the background that all that may be noticeable is feeling emotionally low, or that everyone you interact with seems to be sour towards you one day. These stories are dangerous because the habit is so ingrained and automatic that it is hidden. And because emotions are the consequences of thoughts, when the beliefs causing the emotions are unknown, it is very difficult to understand why you feel so bad, and therefore very difficult to feel better. This leads to perpetually low emotional states which seem to have no “onset.” One may chalk their mood up to genetics, or label it as depression without further inspection. So many people get stuck in the quicksand of their lack beliefs, unknowingly. It is a muscle of negativity which continues to get stronger and stronger with each thought. Not only is a lack based narrative responsible for depression, but it also creates a lot of anxiety. If your default is a negative story, then everything, even a phone call returned five minutes later than expected, can be grounds for anxiety, expecting the worst and proof of your shortcomings.

So why do we choose the lack based stories as a default? This can’t be random. And we can’t all be sadists towards ourselves. I know from experience that when I tell myself a lack story, even though it may only last a second now before I catch it, my heart aches, my stomach sinks and my ego feels…satisfied. And there it is! The ego is the culprit creating these stories to be geared towards lack. But why?

Let’s take a step back for a second. The ego is not a daemon inside of us out to ruin our lives. It is a very real part we all have which can basically be described as our sense of separation from everything and everyone else. It is the “I” in “I am hungry.” It is tied to the identities we have created for ourselves. It just wants to keep existing and ensure we are protected from the others it perceives we are separate from. But it is extremely fallible. And when not watched closely, can cause much more harm than good. So, if it is trying to help, and keep you safe, why it is telling you lack stories that make you feel bad? It must be protecting you from something perceived as worse than feeling bad. And that will look different for each person and each story told. It may be trying to help you improve your weaknesses by pointing out each time you fall short. It may be trying to protect you from rejection by making you aware of all the indicators of rejection around you so you can escape. It may think it is keeping you safe from ridicule and failure by telling you you aren’t good enough so you don’t even try. And the ego also needs to feel it is right. It is satisfied to tell you that “she doesn’t like you,” because at least it isn’t risking the thought “she likes me” and is WRONG. The ego can’t stand being wrong. The possibilities are endless, but the puppet master behind the scenes is always the same, the fearful ego.

What to Do

Start Paying Attention:

So now that you realize you may be writing yourself a life story that makes you feel bad, and isn’t even true, what can you do? You can’t change what you are not aware of, so as with all things, awareness is key and the first step. You have already increased your awareness by reading this far. And as you become more conscious of this in your day to day life, you will be able to create more space between an event and the story you tell yourself about the event and the emotions tied to the story. It will not be so automatic. This allows you to start seeing what these stories are, and how insidious they’ve become. It seems we are masters at turning almost anything into a lack based story. And if you notice the consequential feeling state without having caught the belief behind it first, back track to figure out what you are telling yourself that is bringing you down.

Question Your Narrative:

Once you are able to create space and befriend these lack based beliefs to get to know them and to see them for what they are, in time the ability to separate from them will emerge. Instead of these stories being so obviously the truth, so obviously without a doubt an accurate depiction of your life and the people in it, you will begin to question them. After all, how do you know these are “truths”? How do you know the person in line behind you was annoyed because you took too long to find the right amount of change in your wallet? And you even dropped some of it making them wait even longer, therefore you are so clumsy, if only you could just get it together and stop ruining everyone’s life! But in reality, you don’t know that person in line behind you, and they never said or did anything to confirm this narrative. How is this story any more true than one about the same person admiring your good looks and kind demeanor while you paid for your food? It’s not. And the truth is, you will never know. But the point is that one story makes you feel bad, and perpetuates low self-confidence, anxiety etc., and one story makes you feel good, or at least not awful. And if you are uncomfortable with replacing a negative story with such a self-promoting one, or it seems too far-fetched, at least challenge the negative story and let it remain unknown. “That person in line behind me gave me no proof they were annoyed, or that I am clumsy. In fact, they were looking at their phone the phone time and may have not even noticed the wait. I choose to let that story go.”

Inquire With Friends:

You can also utilize trusted friends to find out if there is any truth to some of your assumptions. As they assure you they don’t think you are a failure in life, and haven’t even noticed your weaknesses that you feel are blaringly obvious, the less power these stories hold. The less they will dictate your emotional state, and the more they become an annoyance popping up more out of habit than believability. “Oh there you are again lack based story, I don’t need you anymore, go on your way now.” And they will, slowly, decrease in frequency and intensity.

Write It Out:

Another helpful way to take your power back from an unwanted narrative is to make a list of all your go-to stories that keep popping up, or write down every time you catch one in an ongoing list. Seeing them written on paper gives your logical mind time to analyze the validity and come up with alternatives.

If you would like help with rewriting your lack based life story, I’d love to hear from you at Alyssa@alyssarand.com

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