The Stories We Tell Ourselves


I stumbled upon this quote today and it really struck a chord with me:

I am always at a loss to know how much to believe of my own stories ~ WASHINGTON IRVING

But first I had to look up who Washington Irving was. Turns out he was a 19th century American author, essayist, and historian. I don’t think I had ever heard of him before now – although as I discovered I did know two of his best-known stories The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.

Back to Irving’s quote; and the question that it triggered in my mind is how much should we believe the stories we tell ourselves? For don’t we all tell ourselves stories which define who we are? We are the daughter of X, the sister of Y, the mother of Z and so forth. What do you do, people ask us. I work as an office manager; I’m a stay-at-home Mom; I work in a bank. We tell other stories too. I am a breast cancer survivor. I am a patient advocate. I feel empowered. I want to make a difference.

And then there are the darker stories we tell ourselves.. the less-than stories. I am scarred. I am damaged. I am not worthy. And the stories others tell us about who they think we are.

Let me tell you the story of a man called Victor. At the age of six, Victor is taken to a children’s counseling center by his father. At the end of this visit they leave with a story (diagnosis) of Victor’s diminished mental capacity. Victor grows up believing in this story he has been told, and believing the same story, he is treated as a fool by everyone who knows him.  Some years later, Victor took an intelligence test which revealed that he had an amazingly high IQ. Now he had a new story to tell himself and others.  Victor Serebriakoff wasn’t a fool, but an intelligent, capable human being who incredibly went on to become the president of MENSA, the largest and oldest high IQ society in the world.

The stories we tell ourselves shape our lives.

But here’s the thing we should never forget. We are the author of our own stories.  For every perceived weakness we possess, we possess huge potential too. We get to choose which story we will tell ourselves – a story that will lift us up or knock us down. I am not denying there are obstacles to overcome in your story, that life will throw you off course time and time again; but you still have power over the stories you tell yourself.

One of the stories I told myself two years ago was that I would never get over my grief. I would never feel happy again. And yet the grief has eased, and there have been moments of peace and joy.  I recently heard someone speaking on the topic of suffering and he suggested that instead of saying to ourselves, I am sad, or depressed, or lonely, we could try saying “I am the person with sadness, with grief, with loneliness”. These words have the power to change our story to one of possibility and hope that we will not always be the person who is suffering.

What are some of the stories you tell yourself? Do they help or hold you back? Is there some way you could change an element of your story to make a difference to your life? I would love to hear your thoughts.