Untelling the Stories We Tell Ourselves
There's a story I used to tell myself that was three words long:
I'm an outsider.
There are other ways I told it: I don't belong. I don't fit in. I'm different. But no matter the telling, it became one of those insidious stories that I didn't know was a story; I thought it was the truth of who I was.
Then, when I was at a workshop in my mid-twenties, the woman leading it exposed the fiction of the story I'd thought was fact.
We all feel like outsiders, she said. And the audience was full of nodding heads, agreeing murmurs.
Oh, I realized in the crowd of nods and murmurs, you've all been telling yourself that, too? We're all a bunch of outsiders thinking everyone else is on the inside.
Well, I thought, so long old ideas of self! I left the workshop thinking I was transformed. And I was. But there was still work to be done.
Those stories we tell, retell, re-retell ourselves until we believe them to be truth take time to untell.
I'd be at a party with no one to talk to and my immediate thought would be, "This is because I'm an outsider." And I'd have to gently remind myself, "No, we're all outsiders in here."
Or at a meeting, I'd say something no one understood, laughed at, responded to, and I'd think, "Yup, you don't belong." Immediately, I'd have to tell myself, "Not true. Everyone who didn't understand, laugh, respond, they're outsiders, too."
The process of untelling our stories is a process of awareness and reminding. Of catching ourselves telling the story and gently telling ourselves the truth. Which is usually a whole lot more beautiful and expansive than the little story we've told ourselves.
We humans are full of stories. Some are true. Some aren't. Part of our work, I think, is to learn the difference.
And to turn ourselves, with as much compassion as possible, towards the true ones.