Don’t Believe The Hype: Letting Go Of The Stories Other People Tell Us About Ourselves
The following content may contain affiliate links. When you click and shop the links, we receive a commission.
One of the greatest gifts for me in the past several years has been the ability to gain a lot of perspective on relationships of all kinds in my life, and the realization that I am in control of how I relate and react within those relationships. The biggest shift has been that realization when it comes to my relationship with myself. I think each of us if we’re being honest with ourselves, has believed somebody else’s story about us at one point or another in our lives. If you’re particularly prone to this, you might be caught up in multiple outside stories about you that continue to affect your sense of self today. And it’s totally natural to end up in this position!
It starts within our families of origin…we’re given a “role” from the beginning: whether it’s something as benign as “the cute one” or as damaging as “the problem child”. Maybe even “the anxious one”. This is something I have to be mindful of as a parent as well. Of course, we assign traits and markers to our children, but I have to work hard not to come up with my own outside identities for my children that I cement as fact. It’s so important to leave that room for them to teach ME who they are as they age and come into their own.
Later, you can be attached to a story about yourself in relationships, whether it’s friendships (“the wild one”, “the responsible one”) or romantic relationships (“problems with intimacy”, “alpha male”, “high maintenance”). The truth is, people will always form an outside opinion or categorization of you– that’s how human brains work. We feel better with a category, to be able to organize our experiences and relationships in our minds. But, no outside representation can encompass all of somebody, especially as that person grows, evolves, and changes over time.
This can even happen with work relationships! You might go into a partnership with a certain power dynamic in place…but as value or needs morph and shift, so does that relationship…and so should that story!
How often do we stay stale in our evolution individually, or professionally, when we keep believing stagnant stories about ourselves from the sources around us?
I really wanted to write a bit about my own experience with this today, because as we head into the New Year I know I’m not the only one shining a light on myself internally and thinking about what I want to strive for and embody for the new year ahead. The Holidays, while we’re all inside and taking time from work to be with ourselves and with our families, is often my favorite time for reflection and to process. It’s also normally the time (thanks, family!) When we are most acutely confronted with the stories about us from our pasts that may be holding us back. But guess what? DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE! We are always, always in charge of who we want to be, who we want to grow into, and what we want to manifest in our futures. I’ll share some insights now that I’ve gained from my own work on myself that has ended up shifting a lot in my relationships. Please share if you have any experience with this that you think may be helpful for people starting on this journey of breaking old molds!
Family Of Origin:
Growing up, I had a lot of trauma to process that ended up manifesting in a lot of anxiety and anxious behaviors. I needed a lot of things to be just so in order to make sense of and process my pain in my own head, and there wasn’t a lot of room for mistakes with that…both within myself and from others. As a result, my role became the uptight one, the one who needed to be in control, the rigid one. At times seemingly introverted and withdrawn. No fun. Nagging. Cold, at times. It took me a lot of work on myself to realize that I could separate from this Party Pooper type of story. That I was, in fact, fun and free in my spirit. That I’m actually an Extrovert! (Shocker). And that what this Type A person likes most in the world is to NOT have to be in control. In trusting myself more and more, blessing and releasing a lot of my trauma, and finding safety for myself, I’ve been able to let go of the need for that rigidity and found so much more joy. But it took a long time to release that old story of myself in a family setting. Sometimes those old behaviors and coping mechanisms can come back and I recognize that old stress-ball person, that critic, and that nag. It still takes a lot of conscious work to give me the space to believe in my own story, my true story, and to give my wounds the grace they need to go back to myself after triggering experiences.
Even if an entire group of people believes you to be a certain thing, that doesn’t mean it has to be true! Sometimes it’s easier for people to just file away an older record of something. It’s not necessarily malicious to see somebody as something they no longer are…sometimes that’s the most comfortable and least challenging approach.
A really useful takeaway I got from getting divorced and starting a new relationship has been the acknowledgment of relationship-specific stories we believe about ourselves. Every single marriage has the story it tells itself..both about the relationship as a whole and about the individual members. Because I was a certain person in the context of my marriage, I started to see myself as that person in relationships PERIOD. And I’m sure my ex-husband would say the same about his side. Whether or not those things are explicitly discussed or just subconsciously absorbed, we believe that we are the people we are in that dynamic, in a fixed way. Here are some negative labels that can be exchanged, even tacitly, in a relationship: “Cold”, “Aggressive”, “Passive Aggressive”, “Controlling”, “Jealous”, “Lazy”, “Anxious”, “Domineering”, “Greedy”, “Needy”.
But what if we acknowledged that those labels might only hold true in the context of that relationship? What if our identities as a partner could shift and change depending on the dynamic of the relationship? When I first got divorced, I was super scared that my own shortcomings in a relationship (and everyone has them) would translate into any new relationship I had. I think this is a pretty common fear for most divorcées. I was terrified of recreating over and over again the same issues I had experienced. It took some good therapy and some internal work to realize that who I can be in any relationship will be different, depending on my partner. It’s not about one or the other, but about the dynamic, you create together. One dancer with two different partners can never produce an identical dance. I think remembering this also does great things to help process romantic relationships that don’t work out. It’s never one person’s “fault”. We are each responsible for our half of a dynamic, and it’s important to remember that our half of the dynamic is totally malleable and fluid.
Release the story from your past partners! You are no longer that, and neither are they. Bring forth into new relationships the type of energy you want to be reciprocated, and create a safe space for sharing who you do AND DON’T want to be.
At one time, I was in a working partnership that was keeping me small. While I felt that I had so much to offer, this partner was constantly undervaluing, diminishing, and ignoring my drive and accomplishments. No matter how hard I tried for my unique voice to be heard, they were not interested in watching me grow. Meanwhile, I was being told how important for my career it was to be associated with this partner. I truly came to believe two things: firstly, that I was not worth what I believed in my heart that I was, and secondly that nobody else would value me if they didn’t. I knew that I wasn’t getting where I wanted or needed to go, but I was so scared that if I wasn’t in the partnership that my career would go nowhere. And guess what, when that partnership finally ended, it became clear that I had been so convinced of their story about me and my work that I wasn’t even able to fully see how much support I really had. My entire career shifted after that partnership ended, and I finally started to understand my own worth, both creatively and within my industry.
Your value professionally is something that YOU determine! Remember that somebody not seeing your worth doesn’t set the bar for what you can accomplish. If you’re in a dynamic that is making you stagnant, reimagine the story.