Do you like stories about relationships? I love them. Lately, we have been watching old seasons of the sitcom “Modern Family”. It felt like we needed some good laughs. Some seasons are of course better than others, but what I really appreciate about this show is that the characters, even though stereotypical, are easy to sympathize with. They are human, every single one of them, and they take turns being the one who learns a lesson, just like in real life. Nobody has it all quite together and this show reminds us that we are lovable with all our flaws, vanities, insecurities and dreams.
Due to the mockumentary-style of the show, we get insights into the character’s thoughts about themselves and their loved ones. Thus “Modern Family” also illustrates well how we all run a story of who we were in the past, who we are in the present and who we can be in the future, and how our family plays a part in shaping that story. The show provides different perspectives of the same situation or same person and demonstrates that we are not stuck with one view of things.
Our personal life story is never just a summary of facts and events. We as the narrator cannot help but interpret what happened. What is essential is how we integrate the facts and events internally into a coherent story which has characters and a plot line that weaves it all together and gives meaning to the events. Our story, as we tell it in our heads and to others, becomes an essential part of our identity.
Years ago, I had a young client whose story I have told many times as a powerful example for how we do not need to let our story limit who we are. She was the youngest of three siblings. When she was little, her family had a car accident. Her dad died and her mom became wheel-chair-bound and experienced chronic pain. Life was safe and comfortable one moment, and suddenly became a huge struggle. My client could easily have told a story of adversity and hardship. She could have focused on the loss and sacrifice. Nonetheless, she was positive and felt that her experience was not a misfortune but had helped her become who she was. All three siblings cherished their family and supported each other. They worked hard, became professionally successful, and adapted a great attitude towards life. All three of them chose to tell empowering life stories rather than disempowering ones.
But it is not just the tough stories that invite us to shift from a victim story to an empowering one. Sometimes it is the story of a so called “easy start in life” that leave us feeling undeserving. I have heard people tell me “I had two loving parents, who provided well financially and allowed me to explore my passions. I got to do sports, arts and music. My parents weren’t rich but supportive. I had an easy start in life. I never had to overcome anything. Who am I to be a role model to others?”
In my experience, everybody experiences some hardship at some point in their life. Some people as children, some as young adults, others in their 40s or 60s. It is important not to let your story hold you back. The same applies to the “I had an easy start in life” story as to a “hardship” story. How you connect the simple facts with a central theme and what meaning you give the events, is completely up to you.
Before we can potentially change our story, we need to discover what story we have been telling in our heads and to others. As a belief change coach, I work with beliefs and stories on a regular basis. We can explore how our stories are serving us, but also how they are holding us back. Our stories always reflect the beliefs we have internalized about ourselves, our relationships, other people and the world in general.
What’s your story? What is the plot and what are the main characters? Do you see yourself as the hero or villain, as the victim or the fighter? If you are willing to dig a bit deeper, you might be surprised which positive and also which limiting patterns you can discover.
In her book “Loving Bravely”, Alexandra H. Solomon, PhD, suggests an illuminating exercise of creating a table of contents for your life story. These are the questions she asks to discover the patterns:
- What is the title of your entire life story?
- What chapters are there and how will you title those chapters?
- Then fill in the details: Who are the major characters? Who has stood in your corner, who has presented you with challenges?
- What are the central conflicts or major themes in your life?
- What have been your most impactful lessons?
- What are your favourite chapters and why?
- In what ways have you been blessed?
- Select 3-5 patterns or themes that represent your core issues and capture your life so far.
- Now select 3-5 themes that you would like to have captured in the upcoming chapters of your life. What needs to be shifted?
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