PsychologyToday.com is one of my favorite websites to visit. I spend about a half hour each day browsing the various blogs and usually I find some little snippet that is helpful, interesting or just entertaining. Yesterday though I came across a post in Stuck by Anneli Rufus that really hit home for me.
Self Loathing: The Ultimate Prejudice begins with the line "we aren't born with low self-esteem." This is a pretty obvious statement to me. As babies we are blank slates with no experience in the world by which to judge ourselves or others. She then shares her story which, as she explains, is also her mother's story.
"Hers is the only story I have ever told. In telling what I thought was my own story, I was always telling hers, because I loved her in her suffering and sought always to please her, and because she taught me fear and self-recrimination, taught me dedicatedly year upon year although she meant no harm, just as medieval coopers and barbers taught their apprentices: Do as I do and do it well and you are set for life."
Story. This is what resonated with me. Humans are storytellers by nature, we have looked to stories to pass on life lessons, to explain the world around us, to entertain, and to escape daily life for thousands of years. On a community level they give us a shared experience that brings us together. We seek to emulate the heroes of these tales and use the villains as cautionary examples. But what about our personal stories? The ones that were penned in our brains as children and which we have been telling ourselves ever since.
As children a large part of this story is written by others: our parents, the media, our religion, or our social circle. The story can come from experiences both good (winning a race) or bad (sexual assault). We use these personal stories, both positive and negative, in much the same way as our community does. We take from them our life lessons, use them to explain our world, and why we don't feel loved or worthy or good enough. We write them down on the pages of our brain and repeat them to ourselves, over and over and over again through each stage of our lives.
"And thus children who might have become anything became coopers and barbers not for a year but forever, not because they wanted to but because when they were too young to helm their own fates, adults deemed it so."
Just to be clear, this isn't just another blame-it-on-our-parents-because-you-are-unhappy excuse. If your story is not a positive one and if it did come from your parents chances are it was their story too and the only one they knew how to tell. And while you might harbor some resentment, or anger, or wish that you'd been given a different tale to tell the cliche of being unable to change the past and learning to let go of it is a true one. It isn't easy but to cling to the past risks making one bitter and the story will never change.
Because now, no longer a child, as an adult you are the author of your story. You can keep telling the same one. The one that says you aren't worth it, or it's better to be invisible and unnoticed, or that you are ugly, or stupid, or that you will never make anything of yourself because you have no talent, or that sex will cure loneliness, or it's too late to become the person you want be.....
or you can pick up the pen, turn to a fresh page and begin to write a new chapter and write a new draft. The story you wish to be yours can be and then you can can share it with the the world, your children, your friends and most importantly yourself over, and over again...