NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Changing the Negative Stories You Tell Yourself About Who You Are

Do you have negative stories you tell yourself about who you are? 

If you do, you're not alone. These stories are shaped by your experiences and they also shape your perception of yourself.  So, if the narrative you are telling yourself is negative, you're likely to believe these distortions (see my articles: How Psychotherapy Can Help You to Change Distorted Thinking and 5 Steps For Challenging Distorted Negative Thoughts About Yourself).

Changing the Negative Stories You Tell Yourself About Who You Are

In Mark Epstein's books,  Going on Being and The Zen of Psychotherapy, he discusses the negative narratives his clients often cling to and how it affects their perspective of themselves.  He discusses this based on the intersection of psychotherapy and Buddhism.  However, to benefit from these concepts, you don't have to believe in Buddhism or even be a spiritual person.

How Do Personal Narratives Develop?
Personal narratives are developed through your early experiences even before you have any awareness of them and the effect they have on you.  This means they are often unconscious (see my article: Making the Unconscious Conscious).

Personal narratives are often impacted by the hopes and fears your parents had for you if they projected these stories onto you. Then, you take them in on a deep level even before you are aware of it.

For instance, if you grew up with parents who told you that you could strive to accomplish whatever you want, all other things being equal, you will most likely grow up feeling self confident and entitled to pursue your dreams.  

But if you grew up in a family where your parents believed the world is a dangerous place  and you shouldn't expect too much in your life, you will probably feel anxious and scared to pursue your dreams or you might not even allow yourself to have personal hopes and dreams. (see my article: Overcoming the Effects of Childhood Trauma).

Becoming Aware of Your Personal Narrative
Before you can change your personal narrative, you need to become aware of the stories you are telling yourself (see my article: Developing Self Awareness and Making Personal Changes).

This can be challenging because, as previously mentioned, these old stories develop so early and they become ingrained in you.  Over time, you might have even come to develop a strong identification with these stories--so much so you don't experience any separation between the stories you are telling yourself and who you really are. So, you need to have a way of observing your personal narrative.  

Many people find mindfulness meditation to be an effective way to observe and become aware of the thoughts and emotions.

When you begin a mindfulness practice, you might find yourself distracted by irrelevant thoughts and other distractions.  But if you continue to develop your mindfulness practice over time and you can let go of self judgment, you can begin to notice and question these negative perceptions.

People often think they aren't supposed to have unrelated thoughts during mindfulness meditation, but your thoughts will automatically come.  Rather than expecting not to have thoughts or trying to suppress these thoughts, just observe them and then let them go as if they could float away on a cloud.

Changing the Stories You Tell Yourself About Who You Are
Awareness is the first step.  

Are you happy with what you have observed?  Is this what you want for yourself?

After you become aware of an old negative narrative, you can attempt to step outside your experience to question whether this narrative is true and ask yourself where it came from (see my article: You Can't Change Your Past, But You Can Change How Your Past Affects You Now).

It's not unusual for there to be unconscious reasons for maintaining and reinforcing negative stories based on your fears about change.  There might be an unconscious belief that by maintaining the status quo, you are keeping yourself "safe."  But playing it "safe" can also keep you stuck (see my article: Are Your Core Beliefs Keeping You Stuck?).

Journaling about what came up in your meditation is helpful in terms of making sense of and questioning your thoughts and emotions about yourself.

Where is the evidence for the negative stories you are telling yourself?  

Can you consider other alternatives?

Rewriting Your Personal Narrative
What if you write a new narrative that is closer to your authentic self and you step into that narrative to see how that change feels (see my article: Becoming Your True Self)?

Rewriting your narrative doesn't mean you tell yourself you had a wonderful childhood if you didn't. That would be a false narrative.

Instead, acknowledge your negative memories, write about them and, without negating the traumatic impact they had on you, also look at what you might have gained from these experiences so you can begin to reframe them in a larger perspective.  

For instance, in addition to the adversity and emotional pain, did you learn anything of value from them?  Did you develop strengths as a result of these struggles?

When you discover and acknowledge the strengths you developed as a result of these experiences, you can begin to see your personal narrative with a new expanded perspective.

Overcoming Trauma That Affects Your Perception of Yourself
When you are struggling with unresolved trauma you developed early in your life, you might be too overwhelmed by emotional triggers and related thoughts and emotions you developed from the trauma.

Although you can still look at your personal narrative in a larger perspective, when your trauma symptoms are active, you will probably need the help of a therapist who is a trauma specialist to help you overcome these symptoms and the related negative personal stories you tell yourself (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

Getting Help in Therapy
By definition, trauma is overwhelming.

If you are struggling with unresolved trauma, you owe it to yourself to seek help from a licensed mental health professional who helps clients to overcome trauma.

Freeing Yourself From Effects of Your Traumatic History

Freeing yourself from the effects of your traumatic history can change how you feel about yourself and allow you to lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome trauma.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.