Once upon a time, a man made a mistake. From that day on, he believed he was an unlovable disaster. And this belief rang true for the rest of his life.
We all have a narrative. For some, the story is they are golden and can do no wrong. Others fancy themselves righteously divine. And others take life as it is.
I’m going to be real with you. Most of us have two stories: the conscious, front-facing story and the subconscious inner story. And most of the time, these two do not match. The latter is often insidious.
Cece’s External story: I am strong, smart, confident, and resourceful. I can do anything.
Cece’s Internal Story: I’m a burden, and no one is going to truly love me as I am unless I can be what they need. I am worthy when I am useful.
Until a couple of months ago, I believed my internal story matched my external story. Granted, I was always slightly concerned that my sole aim was to be smart, strong, and capable. One, that is one boring way to live. Two, it bothered me that I could not come up with any other adjectives for myself. And three, being smart, strong, and capable is exhausting.
Fear and love cannot live in the same place at the same time.
Little by little, I am learning to sink into emotions and experience them. I’ve also learned to peel back the layer of my psyche and examine my conscious and unconscious thoughts and motivations. Honestly, the inner layer of the onion is not quite so fresh.
Don’t get me wrong. I love myself. I have great self-esteem. But my life has been one of service to my family and my community. I found that my year of trying to break from that messed with my sense of worth. On the one hand, I desperately wanted balance. I didn’t want to continue my unhealthy cycle of giving and working until exhaustion. On the other, the all-or-nothing approach made me feel guilty for not giving my all to my family and friends. It physically hurt to set boundaries. In hindsight, I see that I had disengaged with many of the parties involved in one form or another to avoid the pain of setting and keeping boundaries. The result? The filthy little thought of, “Well, I guess I’m not as loveable as I thought.”
I break the cycles and patterns of behavior that bind and no longer serve me. I make space for new patterns that heal and elevate my life.
Until I recognized my inner story, I hadn’t recognized the guilt and shame I felt when dreaming big or setting boundaries. My goals were always lofty but capped and plagued by the contingency of needing to drop everything to care for others. When I thought a friend was sick, I literally planned for the possibility of restructuring my life to fit two more kids into my two-bedroom home. This plan was ridiculous because I was probably the fourth person in the line of potential guardians. Oh, and the person showed no other indications of being sick except sallow skin. They felt they needed vitamins and more water. I was convinced something else was wrong.
Alarmist behavior aside, my brain’s automatic wiring leads me straight into “time to sacrifice” mode. The thought of sacrificing again makes me cranky. Yet, the idea of not sacrificing when called makes me sad, guilty, and inadequate. The skinny little girl inside me honestly believes people will love her less if she says no.
I can pinpoint almost the exact time I realized that being helpful mitigated my less than desirable qualities, further reinforcing the belief that I am more lovable when I’m useful. I was a Why kid. Meaning I was, and still am, insanely curious, rebuffed authority until said authority proved itself worthy, and I yearned to understand the why in all things. I also talked nonstop, was blunt instead of deferential, and did not understand a “child’s place” because my soul was 182 and I didn’t have very many kids my age to play with. I was often described as hawk-eyed and stubborn as a mule, both of which have always made me chuckle. These do not sound like horrible qualities, but anyone who has ever dealt with a willful child knows the struggle.
So, what am I going to do with all this new knowledge? I don’t know. I’m still working that out in therapy. However, self-care has become more critical. Previously, I spent a lot of time focusing on replenishing my energy and stimulating my mind. Now, I am working on tasks that will actively tease apart and rewrite my internal story.
First, this post notwithstanding, I have removed the words useful and useless from my vocabulary. They are rife with heavy negative, toxic energy, whether used toward someone else or me.
I free myself from my own limiting beliefs and those impressed upon me, for I know that I am limitless and guided by the universe.
Second, I am setting and articulating healthy boundaries, which means I am not avoiding difficult conversations or conceding to prevent emotional backlash. Of course, that meant I had to figure out my boundaries first. It was pretty obvious once I put my mind to it. My boundary is I will help as much as I can without taking on the burden or voluntarily making undue sacrifices. For example, I don’t need to spend hours job searching for a family member who mentions wanting a new job. Here’s the thing, most of the time, people didn’t even know I was going to those lengths for them. But, if someone I cared about said, “Keep an eye out-,” I heard, “Help me look.” So, I will not continue.
Third, I do self-love and energy clearing meditations, and I created mantras. I can’t say whether these are helping, but positive self-talk can never be bad.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have an amazing internal story. After all, people never quite see the best in themselves. Yet, I hope to one day have a more realistic view of myself. Everyone is worthy of love just by being born. There is no membership fee for worthiness. Maybe one day soon my inner story will be something like, “I’m opinioned, mouthy, and a little judgmental, but I’d do anything for those I love.” It’s not glamourous, but it is accurate, and it is a decent depiction of my whole self.
My external story isn’t spectacular either, but it is authentic. It is how I see myself and how I want to be seen.
After much reflection, I recognize how one story bled into the other and how my personality and life events shaped and reinforced both. As an empathetic nurturer, I hate seeing people who are hurt and alone. Growing up, the people closest to me were hurt and lonely often. Thinking back, I can remember slightly tailoring myself to be what that person needed at the time. Happy for my father. A helper for my mother. Annoying but ever-present for my big sister. A surrogate for my younger sister. A quiet companion for my grandfather and a competent friend for my grandmother. I may have messed up on that last one. Our relationship suggests that, while she appreciated the help, she mostly wanted me to stay a child just a little longer. I was everything but a carefree child. Don’t weep for me, though. The old lady in me was always a strong force. I had no idea how to child even when I was one; children were weird to me. I was born a tiny adult, which probably also contributed to the cycle.
External stories are the mask shown to the world, but internal stories are often the driving force or the limiting beliefs. Not all internal stories are insidious. Not all are toxic, and even some of the toxic ones can be boiled to show one’s most basic need or desire. For me, I need to help people and be secure. I’m sure having the scales tip too far too often contributed to my inner story. After all, children make sense of their world from a limited scope. The point is, my internal story is also a limiting belief that has colored many of my actions for the last several years. Now that I know, it is time to change my story.
What’s your internal story? It is hurting or propelling you? Does it match your external story?