WHAT STORY ARE YOU LIVING?
We humans have an innate need to make sense of our lives. We look back at our history to see where we have come from, and try to make decisions that we hope will take us in the direction that we are headed. In all of this, we continually experience a variety of challenging, emotionally charged, and sometimes totally bewildering life events. As a means of interpreting these life experiences in a way that makes sense to us, we construct stories about our lives that weave our past, present and future together into a coherent tapestry. Our life stories share many of the same basic elements that you would expect to find in any story. First, our life stories have a cast of characters. These include the hero/heroine or protagonist (typically ourselves), and those persons we view as being our antagonists (those people who oppose us, act hurtfully towards us, or attempt to stand in our way). In addition, the other people we encounter in our lives assume the roles of either central characters or marginal figures. In addition, we, ourselves, become either central characters or marginal figures (victims of circumstance) in our own stories. Finally, just as any television series consists of a series of episodes, the over-arching story of our life is comprised of those many ‘episodes’ that comprise our daily life events.
Why is all of this important? First, your life stories reflect a number of important central themes or underlying ideas; you use these storylines to make sense of, and integrate, the many events that form your daily life. A central theme could be “life is serious and not meant to be enjoyed” or “he who dies with the most toys (prestige, status, money) wins” or “I’m a victim of circumstance.”
Second, once formed, we begin to take these major themes or storylines for granted. No one gets up in the morning and says to herself, “Note to self: Life is a dog-eat-dog world and you have to be tough to survive!” or puts a sticky note reminder on their bathroom mirror saying, “Remember, life isn’t to be savored; every minute counts!” Instead, these central themes take the form of implicit ways of seeing ourselves and our world that operate just outside of our awareness. The fact is that as you are reading this sentence you may not be fully aware of the story that you are living out in your life, or the implications that story has for your sense of happiness and personal fulfillment.
Third, once formed, our personal narratives begin act as a type of mental filter. In our effort to ensure that our stories ‘make sense,’ we tend to screen out or distort aspects of our life experiences so that they neatly fit into the storylines that we have previously established. It is for this reason that our stories are so powerful: they influence what we pay attention to in our life experiences, how we interpret those experiences, the decisions we make, and the actions we choose to take. Once formed, our central storylines exert a powerful influence on how we see our world, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that actually reinforces the strength of those narrative themes.
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