Why do people hang on to their stories? Stories of the past. Stories that make them miserable and unhappy and limited. Because to question those stories is to ask and face the reality of: “Who am I, what am I, without the story?"
Despite the pain and suffering that these stories create, most people cling to them. They re-tell and re-tell ,over and over - to themselves and to anyone who'll listen. Why? They don't go around repeating everything. It's not as if they have to keep on reminding themselves of their gender. I don't have to keep reminding myself I'm female - I just am. It's clearly evident.
So why do people keep repeating their stories?
The lady doth protest too much, methinks...
You see, that's why - they keep repeating the stories because they're not true.
But why would anyone hang on to a story that isn't true?
It's not just a story. It's a belief. And a belief is TRUE. That's what we're taught to believe - that a belief is true! But that's not even necessarily true. A belief, by dint of the fact that it is something accepted without evidence, means that it isn't necessarily true. It might be. Yes, it might be true.
How do you find out if something is true? You test it. You have a look, run some experiments, look at the evidence.
How do you find out if something is true? You test it. You have a look, run some experiments, look at the evidence.
If someone has 2 things in one hand and 2 things in another and they put them on a table and tell you that there are 5 things, you have a look, count them up and it's quite apparent that there are not 5 things. There are 4 things. So you look askance at them, tell them they're wrong, and may not be so inclined to believe everything they say in future.
Unless.... Unless you want them to like you. Unless you depend on them for your well-being and happiness and sense of security. Then you might see that there's 4 things and express some doubt. But if they keep insisting that there's 5, over time, because your very existence depends upon agreeing with them, you'll start to agree with them too.Then you'll start to believe yourself that there are 5 things. You have to. Logic, reason and reality tells you that there's 4 things, but you can't admit the truth of that because you risk being rejected, reviled, mocked, ignored, disciplined, or any other manner of unpleasant consequences of not falling into line with people who hold the power of your well-being in their hands.
So in order to reconcile the reality of 4 things with the possible consequence of rejection and demise if you don't agree to the lie of 5 things, you can't continue with the cognitive dissonance. You have to believe it, i.e. take as true something that is not proven to be so.
And this trick is what happens when we believe stories about who or what we are. As youngsters we are told who and what we are. And we believe the stories. And then they're not stories any more, they are TRUE BELIEFS. Everyone else tells us that they're true, even though we might doubt them at first, and then because everyone else tells us they're true and we need to agree with them, we believe they're true. And then the story is locked in. But because they're not really true, we have to keep repeating them, over and over - asserting their legitimacy - always having to try and convince ourselves and others that they're right. Because to admit that they're not right means admitting that what we were told by the people responsible for safeguarding and protecting us was wrong. Either they lied or they just were not able to tell what was true themselves. And where does this leave us?
Well, as a youngster this leaves us in a potentially difficult position (although we all know young people who do speak up and point out untruths - either because the level of care they get is so minimal as to be not worth losing, or because they may be fortunate enough to be raised and surrounded by people who don't lie and insist that they believe the lies as well - but I think they're pretty few and far between.)
But as an adult - where does this leave us? It leaves us in a position of being able to discriminate, of being able to think independently, and of being able to test and find out what is real, what is true.
And some do. And some don't. Very many don't. And that's why so very many people are lonely, unhappy, miserable and feel trapped. Because they believe a lie. And it's a lie (or lies) that they've been asserting, and had corroborated by others, for so long that it never even occurs to them that it may not be true. It never occurs to them that they feel lonely, miserable and trapped because they're believing a lie about who and what they are. They think that they feel this way because the lie IS true.
Do you see the distinction?
Let's take one belief - the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post: It's a common one - you hear people say it a lot, in different forms - and the core belief is "I'm useless".
Someone who believes this thinks that being useless is the reason why they're lonely, miserable and trapped. That their uselessness is the cause of the feelings, the unhappy situation they're in. They never entertain the possibility that the unhappiness is due to believing something that is false.
And why would they? They're right. Because added to the erroneous belief they have about being useless is the further erroneous belief that 'I am right'. You can't go around admitting you're wrong - because then, where would that leave you? It would leave you in a place of not-knowing, of uncertainty, of groundlessness and if there's one thing that people dislike intensely it's not knowing. Among other things, it's what makes us human - we need to make sense of the world, of ourselves, of life, the universe and everything. To not know puts us in a fearful place where anything could happen and if we don't know what it is, we might not know how to deal with it. So we have find out what everything is, how it works, why it works. And the easiest way to do that (indeed the way we're instructed to do it) is to accept what we're told; especially if those that tell us insist that they're right. Then, in order to go along with what they've told us, we also must believe that we're right. And then that means that we've got it all worked out.
Even if it's wrong.
But lies can be unearthed and revealed to be untrue. There are people that refuse to collude and agree that black is white, that the earth is flat and that they're useless. The reasons why they refuse is a whole other sociological conversation. But thank goodness that they do.
And thank goodness that, in fact, anyone can. Anyone can start to question the beliefs that they've always been asserting are true and right, but which cause them so much unhappiness.
So, let's start with one - let's keep running with the belief "I Am Useless". There it is in black and white, capital letters and quote marks. It's true. It's true because it's told and heard so often by youngsters. Not always in those words. But the fundamental label is Useless. And it gets repeated by parents, by friends, by family, by teachers, by governments, by advertising - in fact, by many, many people. It comes in the form of "Let me do that for you (because you can't do it properly)", "Buy this product, it'll make you better", "We need to tell you what to do, because otherwise you won't know how to live", "Worship this God or you'll go to hell because you're bad." "Do as I tell you, because I'm older/wiser/better than you." And on and on and on.
We may, for a while, and at times, question whether or not they're right, and if we're very lucky we may see through some of the lies and see the whole house of cards for what it is. But, more usually, our doubts get covered over by the constant assertion, in one form or another, that we're useless. And, let's be logical, they can't ALL be wrong, can they? I mean, they're right aren't they? About so many things - fire burns, water's wet, ice is cold. You see, they know. They know what's what. So they must be right when they say I'm useless. And because I want to be right too, I have to agree and believe that I am useless. Because being Right is just and noble and worthy. I may be useless but at least I'm Right about being useless!
What if, however, you allow yourself the possibility that you're not right - and this is where the difficult bit comes in, because admitting you're not right is tied up with perceptions of being good and noble and just, but more importantly, because that means that they may not be right either - and if they're not right about this, then what else might they not be right about?
So, if that feels uncomfortable why not look at it much more rationally? Forget about being right. Rather, find out if it's correct. I think that's a much more effective question to ask.
Is it correct that I'm useless? Treat it as a theory rather than a truth; because then you can start to find out the reality, by looking at the evidence.
In order to do that you have to look for instances that disprove the theory. Find out where you're not useless. Look at the facts. You're alive. You have abilities. Find one thing that you know you're good at. Then find something else. Keep going. You may not be world-class at these things, you may not be lauded and applauded for them - but you're not useless.
So what? you might say.
Well, here's what. Yes, it may be that you're not the best in the world at all these things, or anything, but you'll never get to be the best, or even the best you can be, if you carry on with the belief/lie/story - I Am Useless. Because it's a very handy lie to have. It's the one that keeps people particularly unhappy, miserable, depressed and trapped.
And it does it like this:
If I go on believing "I’m useless", then it gives a watertight excuse, it absolves of responsibility. It stops me asserting myself, it allows me to avoid confrontation, to indulge in habits which are destructive, either financially or health-wise. Because if I’m useless and I’m right to believe that I’m useless, it then paints the story of my entire behaviour - an entire life.
I can even pretend to be useful, whilst underlying that pretense is the default belief ‘I am useless’. So then I can make forays into being useful, but never have to follow through. I don’t have to succeed, I don’t have to be brave and honest and fearless and bold and authentic. Because I’m useless. I can look like I'm doing those things, but I don't really have to. It allows me to be a hypocrite.
Being useless is the ultimate ‘victim’ garb. It extends to all areas of life. It works for everything. Relationships, career, hobbies, interests, community, being happy. Because you can say ‘well, it’s not my fault. I’m useless.’ It means that you never have to succeed. You never have to take it all the way. You can start things all the time, but you don't have to carry on. You can get passionate and enthusiastic about interests/projects/initiatives etc., but after a while they can fizzle out. Because if you believe "I’m useless", then that belief permeates whatever you do. If you believe you’re useless you’ve a get-out clause. For everything.
But it turns out to be your get-out clause from living happily.
Because, the trouble with “I’m useless” as a default assumption/belief is that it operates in areas where you are talented/able and then you can’t see the wood for the trees. You can’t truthfully evaluate the areas where you are effective, talented and useful. So it disables you in all sorts of areas and you end up giving up on everything because you transmute the belief “I am useless” onto everything that you do/say/think/feel.
It disables in other ways too. It gives an excuse to abdicate responsibility. It gives a seemingly plausible excuse to not stand up for what's important, it means that you don’t have to put yourself on the line, not fully. It gives an excuse to not commit. To sort of dabble around the edges. It produces laziness: “Oh, I’m useless, so what’s the point of doing anything.” You can even be successful at them for a while, but ultimately you can opt-out.
How then, to see through the story, the lie, the belief? To re-write the story so that it says “I’m not useless, I’m doing the best I can.” Or “I’m not useless, I just don’t enjoy doing this.” Or “I’m not useless, I just don’t think it’s a worthwhile endeavour.” Or “I’m not useless, it’s just that someone else is better at this and it's more useful to let them do it."
But not just re-write the story - you have to see that it IS just a story - and that it's not even a true story.
And then, when you see that you aren't right, that you're not useless, you discover instead that you’re able. That you can do the things you want. You may not enjoy the consequences, but you CAN do whatever you want - or at least try them out.
Without the belief ‘I am useless’ you have removed all the excuses for not being able to live how you want. To do things. And yes, you might be useless at doing some of those things. But YOU are not useless. And if you find out that you're no good at one thing, because you're not useless, per se, you can carry on and try something else and find out that you're actually very good at it.
And because you're not useless you don't have to limit yourself to one thing, you can keep going - being useless at some things, mediocre at others, and stunningly good at others. Imagine what you could do if you stopped believing you were right, stopped believing that you are useless.
So start by asking: "Am I correct in thinking that I'm right? That's your first question. And then find out whether the things you always thought you were right about are correct or not.
Then you've destroyed two lies: I am right and I am useless.
From then on in, you can start to question everything. Then every time that lie pops up, either in the form of self-talk or out of the mouths of others, you can shake your head and say - "No, that's not correct. You aren't right. I wasn't right. I'm not useless."
See where that takes you.... do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?