The Stories We Tell Ourselves
You dream of moving forward, making an impact, doing something that scares you, and then in a flash of crippling self-doubt, you back out. What’s holding you back?
By Quentin Steen, Representative
Not one of them doubted anyone else in the boat. Believing in one another was not really an issue anymore. What was more difficult was being sure about one’s self. The caustic chemicals of fear continued to surge in their brains and in their guts.
—The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
You have no doubt heard phrases such as you are what you eat, you are what you speak, and you are who you hang out with. There is truth in these words, and they can each serve or harm our mental health to no small extent.
It matters what we eat, the words we choose to speak, and who we choose to be around. This Monday’s Mental Health Moment focusses not on the words we speak to others but to ourselves. I asked my wife, Tracy, a former clinical therapist with a masters degree in counselling, to lend her expertise. The following is her insight and advice about the stories we tell ourselves.
We are our own worst critics. Sometimes, the narratives we create about ourselves and continue to repeat lack kindness and empathy. We desperately need to grow beyond the limitations that our self-made narratives keep us under.
Self-doubt is one of those mental health ANTs that can cause what’s best in us to shrink back and miss out on what’s best for us. It can be one of the biggest saboteurs in our life, causing us to miss out on what could be some of the greatest moments of our life. We dream of moving forward, making an impact, doing something that scares us, and then in a flash of crippling self-doubt, we back out.
Look for a moment at the stories that you tell yourself. Where do they come from? How long have they been there? Why do they leave you feeling as though you don’t have a choice?
The stories that you tell yourself are a compilation of many, many moments in your life. They can start with something that is your very first memory, and like a snowball rolling down the hill and growing in size, each time a profound moment occurs, you compile a little more data about who your brain says you are.
For example, if I had the lead in the Christmas concert in grade 1 and forgot my lines and the audience laughed, I will determine what that defining moment says about me based on many factors—my upbringing, my sense of humour, my genetics, what my parents taught me about my worth, etc.. And this determination is different for everyone!
The story that I may tell myself about that moment could be that I’m not good enough to perform because I wasn’t perfect. In contrast, someone else—with a different set of genetics, upbringing, parents—may tell themselves that they are entertainers who make people laugh.
Brene Brown talks about three of the most dangerous stories that we tell ourselves—our lovability, our divinity, and our creativity. Each of these categories dip deep below the surface of who we are. They are very vulnerable places that speak to our worth and our abilities as human beings.
- Our lovability – Just because someone or something isn’t able to love us, does not mean that we are unlovable.
- Our divinity – Our faith narratives must be protected, and we must remember that no person is ordained to judge our divinity or write the story of our spiritual worthiness.
- Our creativity – Just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change its worth or ours.
It really is no wonder that each of these three parts of us can be so easily wounded and create a negative story that we tell ourselves today.
What if the next time that caustic chemical of fear begins to surge and whispers to you that you are not good enough, you don’t have value, or that you don’t belong? Take a deep breath and be curious about that response. Your fear is just rising to protect you from any painful or shameful feelings from the past.
Remember, no matter what, you are lovable, divine, and creative. You were born with those traits, and the world needs you to have the courage and reveal that beautiful part of you.
As Brene Brown writes,
We are the authors of our lives. We write our own daring endings. We craft love from heartbreak, compassion from shame, grace from disappointment, courage from failure. Showing up is our power. Story is our way home. Truth is our song. We are the brave and broken-hearted. We are rising strong.
Quentin Steen is a certified mental health first aid instructor for the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Get your BRAIN right and your MIND will follow!
3 Mental Health Resources to Help You During the Pandemic
- Stronger Minds features videos and quick reads from mental health experts, activities to help you gain resilience, and ask-an-expert videos in response to questions.
- WellCan offers free well-being resources to help Canadians develop coping strategies and build resilience to help deal with uncertainty, mental health, and substance abuse concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support provides free online resources, tools, apps, and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals.