"History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it" - Winston Churchill
Everyone has their own personal history: the collection of stories we were told about times we were too young to remember, along with stories we experienced ourselves, spun together by our own interpretation in the present moment. Our history holds a powerful influence in our lives.
It's a testament to the beauty and absurdity of the world that so much of what we do, how we think, and how we see ourselves hinges on such an impressionable variable.
I'll use my own personal history to illustrate this point. Here's how I told the story of my birth for most of my life: "I was abandoned at the hospital in an incubator while my family stayed at home and nurtured my twin brother."
My mother, who went into labor five weeks early in the winter, was not expecting twins. We were underweight, but I was more underweight than my brother, and, as a result, I spent two weeks in the hospital in an incubator while my brother went home with my parents soon after his birth.
Those are the facts. But at some point in my life, I started telling that story in a particular way, with a particular slant. Here is the gist of my slant: I was abandoned, left, forsaken. I lacked love and attention in those first two weeks, and that was clearly the root explanation for anything in my life that wasn't working. I found examples of medical studies proving the importance of early stage mother-infant bonding. I combined those facts into my birth story, to create a personal history that explained the low self-esteem and lack of courage in my life.
If I'm really honest, I gathered a bunch of stories like this with all the same themes: me as powerless, others as not caring, and the world as a scary place.
You might be thinking, "But, Laurie, early bonding really IS important." Or you might be thinking, "Laurie, you are so silly not to know how lucky you are. MY situation was way more terrible and hard to get past." We all have a very special story to tell, and not all the things that happen in it are going to be our ideal. I think the challenges are sacred and necessary and very much our own. But here's what's curious: even if there is some validity to the subject of early mother-infant bonding, or even if your story is worse,
MY particular focus in THAT story caused me years of heartache and justified years of me avoiding going for what I wanted in life.
If I look closely at this story, I can see that my telling of it is biased. Were there other possible interpretations of my birth story? Like how I turned out so healthy, happy, and high-functioning was perhaps because of the love and support from the parents who supposedly abandoned me at birth? Did it have anything to do with the miracle of modern technology that made it so I could SURVIVE those first two weeks? Funny, I had never looked at THAT history.
Without two weeks in that incubator, I likely would have died. And yet the way I had been telling the story, my mother should have ripped me from the incubator and kept me alive through the warmth of her body alone. Never mind that it was snowing, my parents were only expecting one child. Still, they trekked to the hospital to visit me, even with another newborn at home. Now that I have had a child (who, uncannily, also had a stint in an incubator), I have an even better perspective on just how much my parents actually loved me. I may still wish I had the "ideal birth experience," but I am grateful beyond measure for the incubator that saved me and the parents who chose to help me live.
Shifting this focus shifted my life. I got to stop blaming circumstances and my parents for what didn't work in my life.
I got to stop thinking something was wrong with me. At first, I wasn't sure what I would do without that identity, but I quickly figured out that it left a lot of room for inventing who I wanted to be instead. I know I get to write my future, and it is connected to how I write my past. There are no clear villains in the stories I now tell, but there are a lot of lessons, and that's how I keep it interesting. I am still capable of revising history, but now I am dedicated to revising it to be the most heroic and triumphant story I can possibly write.
If you do one thing today, I ask that you take a look at your own theories and themes and wonder if the same might apply to you. Does the spin you put on your personal history work for you, or does it work against you?
You have the ability to turn times of sadness into reasons for gratitude. Times of grief into sources of resilience. Personal disasters into powerful lessons from which you can learn, grow, and become your most evolved and most beloved self.
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