One of my friends use to refer to the human race as the Valley of the Walking Wounded. This was in acknowledgement of the fact that few of us have escaped life’s turmoils and hardships. Few of us have grown up with our esteem perfectly in tact. We all have stories to tell and many of our stories are heart-breaking or astonishing, at the least.
It is very true that life’s circumstances shape our lives. But, it is also true that it is up to us to determine how these circumstances shape our lives. In other words, it is not the circumstance that determines the shape of our lives, it is the stories that we tell ourselves about the circumstance that ultimately determines how we show up in the world. The story that we repeat over and over again is the story that will take root and sprout a life of similar kind. What becomes obvious, then, is that if we want a succulent life, we have got to make sure that the stories that we tell ourselves about our lives are of the fruits we want to bear.
I am sure there are many ways to take less than perfect circumstances and make a story that suits you to perfection, but two methods pop into my mind. Let’s take my story as an example. The circumstances: As a youth, I grew up in a household where I was physically, emotionally and, sexually abused. My family was poor so we often lacked in adequate clothing, food, and heating. My mother was absent due to always working several jobs. My dad was an alcoholic and, later, an absentee father which largely meant my brothers and I had to raise and fend for ourselves.
With that set of circumstances, for many years of my life, the story that I told myself was that because of those things, I was unworthy, unloveable, and unloved by God (because if God loved me, why were those things allowed to happen to me?). I told myself that the world was a bad place and that people were waiting to abuse me at the first chance they got. I told myself that I needed to be as invisible as possible but ready to defend myself, if necessary. I presented as being shy, withdrawn, and, on the inside, I was always alert and on the defense, ready to strike when needed in order to protect myself. It also left me feeling alone in the world and quite depressed.
As long as I continued to tell myself that story, the less likely I was going to ever really prosper in life. But then, here is the method that I employed that suited me and the life that I wanted to have better: Rather than focusing on all of the pain of life’s experiences which caused me to opt out of really living, I flipped the story around. My new story became that because of my life circumstances, I have great compassion for those who are in pain. I understand abuse and depression and feelings of unworthiness and lack. I can be a source of nurturance and inspiration for those who are hurting and see no light. Because of my life circumstances, I am smart. I pay attention to people and I am keenly aware of those who are genuine and those who are looking to cause harm. Because of my life circumstances, I am strong. I know how to survive. I know how to go through the fire without getting burned. Because of my circumstances, I am a victor, no question about it!
Another method that you could employ is to change your story in each current moment. For example, I still tend to be a shy person. So, I might think that I could never do public speaking because I am too shy. Though I may really believe what I am saying, there is still a way to flip this situation simply by telling myself a new story. So, instead of accepting my circumstance as something that is going to rule my life (or, in this case, keep me from speaking in public), I can say, “Even though I am shy, I have some important things to say. Even though I am shy, people seem to enjoy listening to me. Even though I am shy, I have a good sense of humor which can break the ice.” Or I can say, “I am shy, but I have a unique perspective on things that people want to hear. I am shy, but I am becoming more comfortable with speaking in groups. I am shy, but I have overcome everything else I am faced with in life, why wouldn’t I be able to overcome this too?”
With this method, I acknowledge what I perceive to be my negative circumstance, but I do not allow that circumstance to define what is possible for me. The more I tell myself this new story about myself, the more I step into a new world that is open for me.
Practice re-writing the stories of your life. Dream the life you want to live. If the stories that you are telling yourself don’t align with your dreams, then it is time to tell a story that suits you better—tell the story where YOU are VICTORIOUS!