When we look at our lives within a process of change, we tend to open up a lot of boxes, some of which have been closed tightly for many years. We may become apprehensive about opening these, thinking that it might be better to keep them locked, we might be thinking that the internal dialogues and self-talk is far too convincing to take a peek inside. However, these experiences can be put together in a creative way to make sense of our lives and understand how we got to where we are. They can also be used to promote our healthy island. One of the most effective ways I know of starting the process of change is through writing and when I say writing, I mean writing about you and your story. This can be intimidating but once you work with images, ideas and metaphors, the sentences will form.
Writing our Life Story… starts with flicking through your life and memories like a notebook. Take the images, shapes, phrases and forms that leap out at you as you think back. Include any words or phrases that you use frequently to describe yourself or others. Don’t worry about going too deep, the simpler the words, the simpler will be the description of your life and development. When I have done this with patients in the past, these kinds of words have appeared….. “can of worms”, “head in the sand”, “the little controller” “scared”, “stolen childhood”, “hiding behind the chair”, “black hole”, “always looking to please”, “why me?”, ” angry little me”, “the young rebel”. When you have some examples, start elaborating on each phrase or word. For example:
“I grew up in a family where….”
“Earlier in my life, I always felt that I was …”
“All my life, I have felt that ….”
“I can’t remember much about my early life but having thought about it, I guess I took the position of…”
Put in as much detail as you can remember about facts, memories and realisations. The next step is to analyse how your early environment affected the way you see the world and yourself today. It should look something like this :
Because of a and b, I believed I had to be x and y. This has led to me having a c attitude towards others and behaving as j, h and t were true.
Your story to this point might look something like this :
I grew up in a family where my father had the last word on everything and opinions were not encouraged. If I gave him back chat, he would criticise me and call me dumb and stupid and that I have nothing important to say. In the end, I didn’t say anything to him, even when I was convinced I was right. I always felt that my opinions were not good enough and so I felt I wasn’t good enough. Most of my life, I have avoided going for targets and goals because I am convinced I will fail. In contrast, I berate myself because I don’t even try. That internal voice keeps telling me not to bother. I think that because my father told me I was dumb, it has led me to believe that it is true and I have the attitude that I am not good enough.
This can be added to by including evidence of things that make you feel good, you are good at or draw you towards in a positive way. This will help you see that you have survived these early beginnings. The final paragraph should be on changes you wish to make in faulty thinking, self-perception and false beliefs. You can also include the thinking traps, such as pleasing, avoiding, etc, that you recognised before and how you might challenge these. All include facing your fear and that may be the only change you ever have to make.
Writing your life story can be a powerful experience and can be extremely moving. When we write them and read them again, it might be the first time we have been hit full in the face by some of these issues. They can be even more effective when read out loud, maybe in a therapy session. We get a sense of the footprints we have left behind, how the impact of our beginnings have left indelible marks on us. We can also see how we have surpassed our own feelings about ourselves and maybe recognise achievements that failed to register with us at the time. We get to understand how attitudes picked up in our early years have formed habits that we feel we have no control over but we also understand that the key to the process is changing these attitudes, understanding that they are not now relevant and leaving them in the past. The biggest advantage of writing our life story is to give us a clear indication of where we are, how we got there and we we can go.
In my next post, I will be looking at other ways of instigating the change and maintaining a healthy island.