Although being housebound during this strange time of Covid 19 can feel restrictive and endless, it can also be a time of inner expansion. It can be a time of giving some deep thought to what really matters. It can be a time of letting go and also of re-defining.
I just finished, for the second time, Jennifer Pastiloff’s memoir, On Being Human. I have given much thought to one of the questions Jennifer asks in her workshops, “In order to be where you want to be, what do you need to let go of?” This is not a Marie Condo kind of question as in deciding what to get rid of in your clothes closet or your junk drawer. This is an internal question about examining our inside stories, our inner dialogues. Of mustering up the courage to discard those tired narratives that most likely are not ours but were foisted upon us by members of our family of origin or our boss or whomever—the I’m not good enough story, the I don’t deserve joy story, or I don’t deserve love story, or when I succeed at something it is a fluke story, or if only people knew the real me they wouldn’t like me story.
We all harbour these narratives. If we are not aware, we allow these diminished narratives to define us. They become a second skin. Because of our brain’s negativity bias, we tend to imbibe the negative and discard the positive. As neuroscientist and psychologist Rick Hanson says, we are like Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive. And so, we walk around seeing ourselves through these warped glasses. We shrink ourselves and shy away from stretching and growing.
25 years ago I gravitated to learn Narrative Therapy because this approach encourages clients to rewrite their stories– to become the authors instead of the recipients of the impoverished stories imposed on us. Through work in my own therapy and as a student of Narrative Therapy training, I became cognizant of the diminished stories I mistook for truths about myself. The stories that held me back from stretching to take that writing class, or sign up for that triathlon or allow myself to be vulnerable in an intimate relationship.
I have stretched and grown and developed resilience and learned to make mistakes, to be okay that I will screw up at times. Falling down is part of this being human and without having our faces in the dirt we don’t grow and we stay small.
I am a better therapist because I have been in the trenches and I get it. I get the pain and the fear and I also get how it feels to experience the beauty of breaking out of old habits and shedding old patterns and masks we all wear. It is an act of courage to let ourselves be known—the not so savoury parts and the good parts—as Jon Kabat-Zinn writes-the “Full Catastrophe”
I invite you to get curious about what stories you may have taken on that are not yours; to make a list of a few and to challenge them. At first, this exercise may feel fake and inauthentic because you have lived and breathed these narratives for so long. Start with countering one story. Get curious. Be open. To look inside can be scary; however, it can also be freeing. You get to take the reins. You get to decide–how empowering.
Being open to seeing ourselves through fresh lenses is not easy but it is necessary if you feel your self-talk is keeping you straight-jacketed in fear.
Let yourself shed what is no longer working and trust that the other side awaits. A side that allows for you to feel and welcome all parts of yourself. It is never too late to begin. It is never too late to change.