#9 What’s Your Story?

Our core beliefs, or what I call our internal belief system, are what we think and feel about ourselves based on the physical, verbal, and emotional information other people gave us. These other people first include our parents, then anyone in our lives who is bigger or important to us.

Our stories start before we are born, but we typically stick to telling only what we know, what we experienced, and what we’ve seen in front of us. We tell our stories to ourselves more than anyone else as we reflect on past experiences to try to resolve, makes sense of, or overcome them. But, when we share our stories with others, we often tell them only the parts that make us look valuable, look good, look important, or look loveable – the very things we want to believe about ourselves, but don’t. If you want examples, check out some of your friends’ Facebook posts.

Every day, in addition to my own, I bear witness to stories of abandonment, neglect, rejection, abuse, and traumas – life threatening events people had in the war zones of international conflict and the war zones of domestic conflicts where they grew up. I’ve heard accounts of sexual, physical, mental, and emotional abuse perpetrated by fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, grandfathers, grandmothers, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, uncles, aunts, cousins, step-parents, and half, step, and foster siblings. The perpetrators were people the victims knew and were supposed to be able to trust, honor, and respect. The victims were robbed of their joy, peace, love, and freedom.

In order for children to grow, they need more, not less. When people mistreat children, they take away more instead of giving more to the children, leaving them with a deficit in value, importance, and love. These children develop more bad than good feelings and thoughts from which they create their internal beliefs. Some examples: Parents who neglect or mistreat their children by not providing them with physical and emotional needs give their children the message they aren’t worthy of existence and the children develop the belief that they aren’t valuable. Children who are constantly criticized, believe they aren’t good enough. If either or both parents are alcoholics or addicts, children realize they aren’t important. If parents sexually abuse their children, the children develop intense negative beliefs, one being that they are not valuable loveable human beings, but are objects for other people’s pleasure.

Even if you didn’t experience traumas like the ones I mentioned, no one is exempt from pain and tribulations. We all have experiences that leave us with bad thoughts and feelings. Maybe you were bullied in school, insulted by your peers, or got involved with an abusive boy/girlfriend. Even witnessing abuse of a sibling or parent can cause you to have the same bad thoughts and feelings as the victim, thereby creating bad internal beliefs.

Some people have good childhood stories that allowed them to have good feelings and thoughts and create good internal beliefs. However, no one can escape vulnerability, times of susceptibility when negative messages creep in and develop into bad feelings and thoughts. We all are subject to attacks on our belief system that can hamper our happiness.

Abuse and neglect are not always overt. Parents who spend more time on their electronic devices than making eye contact, having meaningful conversations, and showing interest in their children are neglecting their children. They are neglecting and denying their children’s emotional needs. And, by giving children more access to their own electronic devices, parents are taking away their children’s ability to identify their own emotional needs. Any lack of emotional needs in children or adults results in feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. I will talk more about emotional needs in future posts.

Once we create our beliefs, they take root in our subconscious mind where they exist right along with us. This existence is protected by our survival instincts, so whenever there is a threat to our beliefs, we naturally fight, flight, or freeze to save them. These are the deep whispers we hear alerting us to be wary and the internal cringes we feel when someone does something good for us or something good happens to us. Test yourself: what happens to you when someone gives you a compliment or gives you a random gift?

We don’t usually tell other people about these alerts, but our behaviors reflect them. We minimize or dismiss compliments, tell people, “You shouldn’t have…” when they give us a special gift, or steer clear of someone after she has been generous to us and we can’t afford to pay her back. Instead of giving people the joy and humility of our gratitude, we take away the joyful feelings and good thoughts because we believe we are unworthy or underserving of goodness.

What do you tell yourself and others? How has your history determined your internal belief system? What’s your story?

Telling the same story over and over is like a fish story. Each time you tell it, you can embellish certain parts of it to make it less boring or to make you look more impressive. Pay attention to how you feel and what you think after you tell your story, especially when you tell it to yourself.

We have exclusivity for our stories, so we write them as we see ourselves, others, and our situations. If your history includes actual or perceived threats to your wellbeing, if you were denied physical and emotional needs, or you witnessed hostility, your story will be tightly focused on you – what happened to you, making the other characters in the story out to be villains. Going through life reciting this kind of story limits your compassion and empathy, steals your joy, and perpetuates distress. It does not make you happy.

Despite your conditions, the messages you got, and the beliefs you developed from those messages, you can change the way you tell your story that will give you peace, gratitude, joy, freedom, and satisfaction. Stay tuned to learn how to tell your story so you can generate happiness!