What is the story of your life?
Human beings are meaning-making creatures - it's important for us to understand things, to make sense of them, and to figure out what they mean. This process starts when we are very young, as we try to make sense of our world and the people in it. If our parents (who are, for most of us, our whole world when we are very small) behave badly towards us, or fail to meet our needs in some way, we try to make sense of that, perhaps to regain some control over a situation that feels very much out of our control.
Sadly, one of the most common ways for kids to make sense of their world is to blame themselves for things that go wrong. If our mother is unavailable in some way (perhaps because she is too preoccupied with her own problems to fully attend to us), we think, 'I must have done something wrong, perhaps I am a bad person', or 'Because she doesn't like me, I must be unlikable in some way.' Over time, these ideas become more concrete, until we believe them completely. They are not ideas to us, but deeply-held beliefs: 'I am a bad person' or 'I am unlikable'.
It constantly saddens me to see people believing these unkind things about themselves, especially when all the evidence suggests otherwise - they may be overly self-critical, but there is nothing intrinsically 'bad' about them and they might be extremely likeable. And, of course, these narratives they have constructed about themselves and their lives may be inaccurate. Perhaps their mother was unavailable because she had a mental health problem, was struggling to maintain a marriage that was falling apart, or was under huge financial pressure, so all she could think about was how to feed her family, or pay that month's rent.
One of the key tasks of therapy is to help us think more closely about the stories we tell ourselves and check whether they fit with reality. In cognitive therapy, we make this task explicit - I want you to see things how they really are, not how you imagine them to be. This is especially important if the stories you tell yourself cast you in a bad light - as someone who always fails at things, who is weak or selfish. Instead, my job is to help you see yourself as a fallible human being with strengths and weaknesses, parts of yourself you like more and less, who has good days and bad, just like the rest of us.
Take a moment to think about the story you tell yourself about your own life - is it fair? Kind? Does it chime with the stories people you trust would tell? If not, it may be time to tell yourself a new story.
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