Life Stories: How To Repair The Damage Done By Telling Them
Why you should tune into your stories and challenge them to find peace.
What is Therapy? 19th Jan, 2021
Many people tell themselves life stories all day, everyday, without realising they are doing so. After you get up in the morning, for example, you may be saying any variation of ‘I’m tired, I haven’t had enough sleep. I don’t have enough energy to get through the day’ in your head. When you tune into this subconscious voice, you can change your stories, or challenge them. These mental narratives are generally linked to the things you are self conscious, or hyper critical about, like weight, how good you are at your job, how popular you are.
Once you know about this inner voice, you can reject what it is saying and start being a little kinder to yourself. This allows you the mental space to be content, instead of constantly criticising yourself, or buying something to get the rush of endorphins that feels like happiness, just to lift your mood.
To understand how challenging these stories can improve your mental health, you need to know why they often escalate, or lead to, increasing anxiety and stress. This is because they often centre around unhelpful thought processes covered in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). These include catastrophising where you imagine the worst possible outcome to a situation, up to and including the death of a loved one. You may play out conversations, or predict a reaction to a work email.
While, to some extent, this is human nature, dwelling on the most catastrophic result is not. That is a reflection of low self esteem and/or expectations so high no one could achieve them. When you start to listen for this, you can challenge yourself, no matter how well you know the person, you can not accurately predict how they will react. Spending hours, days, or weeks dwelling on this only makes you feel like a failure and makes existing stress worse.
Another example used in CBT is labelling ourselves or other people. You may say to yourself ‘I’m stupid, I’m incapable, they’re perfect, they’re idiots’. These labels and comparisons always assume the worst and increase your anxiety. Therefore, once you are aware of labels and see them float across your mind, you can stop and allow that 1, you are exaggerating and 2, everyone is more than one thing, including yourself.
You also need to be aware there are many other stories, unrelated to the unhelpful thinking covered in CBT. These include ‘I am hungry.’ even straight after a meal, which can result in you feeling low in energy. Another common one is ‘I am tired.’ even after a good night’s sleep, which can drag at your mood and ability to complete the smallest tasks. Noticing either, or both of these and shutting them down can really improve your mental health. You may find that gradually, over time you begin to feel more motivated about tasks, chores and work and that you have a better relationship with food.
Overall, when you start to gain a little control over your stories, you may find more mental stillness and peace. This can lead to relaxation and moments of happiness. It is important to remember that happiness is an emotion like anger, or fear. It is not something you can, or should, sustain. Challenging stories and improving your mental health will benefit you far more, resulting in a more settled, contented life.