03 Oct We Are Story-Making Machines
Why Revisiting Your History in Therapy Makes Your Life Better Today
Sometimes it’s hard to understand the point of revisiting your history in therapy. I get it. It’s the past. Over. Why go there?
If your goal is to feel better today and your past was horrible, why go through that again? If your past was fine, or even great, what’s the point? How can it have anything to do with why you are suffering today?
You Don’t Have to Revisit Your History
The reality is you don’t have to go back. There are plenty of ways to address the symptoms you’re having without returning to your history.
But What if That Doesn’t Work?
Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, sometimes your symptoms will remain unchanged. Or you’ll find that your symptoms get activated so often that the techniques you’re using to manage them aren’t keeping up.
If mindfulness and active discharge exercises don’t keep your symptoms at bay, then you’re probably going to have to revisit your history to make your current life better.
That’s because sometimes your body is reacting to things you don’t know it’s reacting to. And other times, you’re following a story line that’s false.
History Can Be Recorded By Your Body Without Your Mind Knowing It
Before your brain had the capacity to remember things with the story-making part of itself, called the hippocampus, you recorded memory in the “lower” parts of your brain. The “lower” parts being the limbic system and the brain stem. The limbic system is your emotional brain and the brain stem runs your basic functions, like breathing, swallowing, heart rate, blood pressure, consciousness.
During the time in your life when you couldn’t remember “stories,” your body was making and storing “memories” in your body in things like muscle tension, breathing style, posture and expectations, etc.
These “memories” are revealed in the way you “do” life, even if you are not aware of it. In other words, there are lots of things you remember about your very early life even if you don’t think you can remember them. These memories account for most of the way you are, the way you act, and the way you interact.
Learning to “see” these types of memories comes from being mindfully aware of how you “do” life. Putting that information in the context of your life history then keeps mysterious triggers from having the same effect on you that they once had.
Sometimes (lots of times) the stories you tell yourself are false
Humans are story-making machines. It’s how we make sense of life. So of course, you tell stories, too. Stories about who you are, about why you are the way you are, about your value, about how life might have been better if you had been different.
You created most of those stories during a time in your life when you had a limited perspective from which to make sense of what was happening to you. You were small and dependent. And you relied on giants who were 4 or 5 times your size to protect and provide for you.
Imagine trying to hold your own against someone 4 or 5 times your current size and who has total control over your life. Now imagine if that person was temperamental, manipulative, selfish or aggressive. Imagine that your sense of being a good or bad person came from pleasing that temperamental, manipulative, selfish, or aggressive person.
Now you know what it’s like to be a child from 0 to 12. In order to survive you made up stories about yourself that were probably not true. You, like all children, have accepted blame for things that were not your responsibility.
These stories undermine your strength, your energy, your confidence and your ability to get what you want out of life. To change things, you’re going to have to revisit and revise these stories.
As I mentioned, you don’t have to revisit your history. There are many ways to address the symptoms that plague you.
However, if you choose not to visit your past, revising the falsehoods you pile on yourself and integrating your emotions with their stories, you’re likely to continue to suffer from depression, anxiety, poor self-confidence or anger issues. You’ll continue recreating your past in the present through patterns of abuse, neglect, or emotional distance; and your suffering will continue.
Here’s the good news.
The reward for visiting your past and making sense of your life by having a narrative that matches your authentic emotional experience of your history is that your life will have new vibrancy to it. The way you interact with friends, lovers, and children will improve.
Your life will be richer, more vital, and full of fantastic things you never dreamed of. You will be flexible, adaptive, and have a more harmonious and profoundly rewarding, authentically lived life.
Interested in a harmonious, profoundly rewarding, authentically lived life? Give me a call. We’ll talk.
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