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Episode 46 How to Re-frame Your Difficult Stories: Step 1 (Workshop 5-Part Series)

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REFRAME YOUR DIFFICULT STORIES – 5-Part Workshop Series

Do you want to be free of the stories in your life that make you feel small or that you find shame or guilt around? These stories often affect our self-perception and thus our interpreted self-worth. This workshop is to help you reframe and resee your life in healthier ways.

Workshop Step #1 – Accept It

Debbie Ford said, “The greatest act of courage is to be and own all that you are. Without apology, without excuses, and without one’s masks to cover the truth of who you really are.”

Stay with us today as we launch into the 5-week Series outlining the 5 steps to reframing your story. Today we will discuss the first of the five steps that take you through the process of reframing your stories for a new space of freedom, peace and a new appreciation and love for your own story. This process is not always easy. In fact, if you are truly doing it correctly it could prove to be a painful process, but make no mistake, it is worth every brave step to dig deep and do the work to love your story, which leads to a fuller acceptance and love of yourself.  And what is more important than that foundation?

Stories are our lives in language. Welcome to the Love Your Story podcast. I’m Lori Lee, and I’m excited for our future together of telling stories, evaluating our own stories, and lifting ourselves and others to greater places because of our control over our stories. This podcast is about empowerment and giving you, the listener, ideas to work with in making your stories work for you. Story power serves you best when you know how to use it.

As I was finishing up my masters degree and my research on the personal narrative, and considering where I wanted to go with my doctorate work, I found that I wanted to further my work with personal narrative in an effort to make sense of my own life story, for which I did not feel complete comfort. There were spaces of shame, of disappointment and of failure that I wore on my back, everyday.

I designed a research plan before I was even finished with my MS work and jumped into the research by interviewing women to discern if their life stories had turned out as THEY expected. It turned out that out of the 20 women who agreed to be part of the research project, only one of them said her life had turned out as planned. These women were diverse. They had different belief systems, they came from different parts of the country, they were different ages, had different careers, different marital statuses, etc.  As I became privy to their stories I felt less alone, but I also realized that there was powerful work to be done in how we view our life experiences.  After graduating with my MS degree I went into a space of consideration – where would I go from here? Would I pursue my Ph.D. and the Love Your Story research? Would I start consulting with businesses on how to use story? What would I do next? As fate would have it, I began an emotional intelligence leadership conference that lasted the entire next year as I went through one program after another. At each step, I learned more about the stories we tell ourselves, about how to reframe, about how to let go, and about how to live big. I worked with personal coaches and I eventually coached others. It became clear that what I wanted to do with my writing, my research, and my tools and understanding of story was to share them and empower as many people as were ready to stand up and love their story. People, who like me, were ready to embrace the tools and take the action for coming to a place of increased peace with their own powerful, disjointed tales.

Brene Brown said, in her book Rising Strong, “So much of what we hear today about courage is inflated and empty rhetoric that camouflages personal fears about one’s likability, ratings, and ability to maintain a level of comfort and status. We need more people who are willing to demonstrate what it looks like to risk and endure failure, disappointment, and regret – people willing to feel their own hurt instead of working it out on other people, people willing to own their stories, live their values, and keep showing up.”

This 5-step workshop is for those people who are “willing to feel their own hurt instead of working it out on other people.”  It is specifically for “people who are willing to own their stories, live their values, and keep showing up.”

The first step in the process of reframing your story so you can love it is to ACCEPT IT.

I want to make four points about this, the first is that most life stories don’t turn out as expected. When we are children and we picture our lives and set our dreams, we don’t envision the tests, the trials, the losses. We picture scenes that are laid out for us in childhood stories and Disney videos, we see the unfolding of cultural iconic stories – finding true love, family, safety, prosperity.  You are not alone, indeed you are in a world full of people who have lives that look nothing like they expected. As affirmed by my research mentioned earlier. 19 out of 20 people did not have their lives turn out as they thought they would. While this is just one study, and a small one at that, in all my informal inquiries it’s far a few who claim a life resembling their youthful expectations. What needs to be understood is that it’s okay, in fact, it’s normal.

Which brings me to my second point: Life is Messy and that’s okay. In episode 8 we discuss this very topic – for the entire podcast. I go into detail with examples of some of our greatest icons and revered figures like Christ, Oprah, Abraham Lincoln and we look closely at the messiness of their lives. The messiness is part and parcel of this whole thing called life. There is real importance in embracing the mess and letting it be what it is, because in the mess is the beauty.

Scott Peck said, in The Road Less Traveled,

“Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.”

Did you hear that? Mess is part of Creation.  Embrace it. Love your mess. Love your story! It’s the only one you have. And, let’s not forget the whole point of this podcast…the idea is that we get to decide how we interpret, use, and accept our own messy stories. It’s okay that it’s messy, in fact, you want it to be messy because that’s where you find the courage, wisdom, and strength. Accept it with a gentleness for yourself and give yourself the basic dignity you deserve.

My third point is very important, but one most people don’t stop to think about.  It is that the parameters for a good life are defined by cultures, religions, and families. What a “good life” means in one culture or religion may differ quite extremely from what another deems a “good life.” This becomes important to realize because “good” becomes a fluid concept created by a set of beliefs taught to us as fact from the time we were small. It is subjective. An example of this can be seen in the differences in attitudes toward nature between Native Americans and the settlers who were bent on expansion. While one culture held great reverence for the land and the circle of life involved in the natural system, the other considered a good life to be one of taming the land, expanding and clearing the land, building edifices to call sacred, rather than finding the sacred in the mountain or the wildlife. Depending on which culture you were born in, a “good life” meant something very different. While you may have your opinion as to which is accurate, the point is that it is subjective. European cultures are much more open about nudity than American culture. Middle Eastern cultures control their women with a heavier hand than would be accepted in Western cultures. In each of these places, what defines a “good life” becomes a little something different.

With this understanding we realize that when you are looking at your life, if being acceptable or “good” is part of the disconnect you have with your story, then it’s important to realize from a big picture perspective that while in your neighborhood, in your family, in your sphere, your stories may not fit all the parameters of a “good life,” it does not mean that there is only one way to create a good life. Maybe your family and religion are very set against divorce at all costs, and when you left the man who was abusing you, you got black listed. There are other spaces where leaving an abusive spouse is perfectly acceptable and supported. It does not make you “bad.”  While in some spheres being subject to the control of your husband is considered the only way to be respected in the community, in other spaces in the world it would be considered a ridiculous expectation bordering on a loss of human rights. You get the idea. Let me say it this way, there are 4000 ways (arbitrary number) to create a “good life.”  There is not just one way to do it.”  A good life can be one that is lived to the best of your ability at each turn. One where you learn, grow, and stand back up and keep on fighting the fight. In earlier episodes, we spoke with a man, Adam Chase, in episode 32, who has created a life where he and his wife live in different states. Not because they don’t love each other, in fact, they newly wed, but because they chose to create a life that works for them and looks a little different, and that’s okay. In episode 23 with Marvin Cassler, we meet a man who lives in a storage shed so he can save his money for travel in the summer when he’s not at work. There are so many ways to build a good life, and if you need more models, listen to the stories of other people around the world. Listen and learn.

Which brings me to my fourth point, which is modeling. Not too many years ago, ever aware of the intricate mental pathways and musings crowding around in my head, I realized that when a situation came up in my life that I had no precedent for handing I would scan for models. If I couldn’t find a model from how I was raised or a personal experience I had had, my brain would turn to movies. Now, right off the bat, we can see all sorts of problems with this go-to, but I suspect we all do it. If I needed to figure out how to handle an interaction with my teen, (and I have a different type of relationship with my kids than my parents had with me, so I often don’t have a model for how to handle it), then I’d think about how some character in a TV show or movie handled a similar situation. Since I’m fully aware of how unrealistic most TV and movies actually are, and how they often propagate a lack of morals that I don’t agree with, you can see how problematic this becomes. And yet, if I have no other model to look to, how do I figure out what to do? Heaven forbid we forge our own way forward using our own judgment.

Occasionally, when I don’t have a model, I get creative and choose a route of my own making, but the fascinating idea is how the human mind always looks to models to determine how to move forward. This is one of the functions of story. Culturally stories are shared to show and teach others how things can be done. This is a universal tool across the world in all cultures. The “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series was a set of true stories captured to show people overcoming and achieving positive results. Models that lifted and made people feel good. Stories used in church settings are to provide models for what it looks like to be charitable, to forgive, to be kind. Family histories can model for us how our ancestors did things. In the interview with Amy Donaldson-Brass, episode 15, she shared her story of finding her own voice. This serves as a model of how someone else did it, and how we can do it. We love empowering stories that show the underdog winning because it models for us how the seemingly impossible becomes possible.

We learn this as children as we speak to adults and they model for us how things are to be done. Dan McAdams, in his paper on the Psychology of Life Stories, says, “In conversation with adults about personal memories, young children become acquainted with the narrative structures through which events are typically discussed by people in their world.” By listening to the way adults tell stories, and to the stories they tell that model how the world should be, they/we are taught what is acceptable, what is not, how things should look, how situations should be handled.

Now, let me point out the obvious: these stories are passed down multi-generationally, or at the very least from an adult to a growing and learning child. While this does not guarantee accuracy in the story, in any way, it does reflect life interpretations of what is acceptable. It is an actively constructed model of what the people before you and around you believe to be an acceptable life story. This interconnectedness between a human life and the culture in which that life is lived are often difficult to separate, and indeed the narratives “allow us to see lives as simultaneously individual and social creations,” according to the Personal Narrative Group article Interpreting Women’s Lives from the Bloomington and Indianapolis University Press. Vast numbers of influences play into the interpretation of a life, and these forces exert their power at a very early age. For example, Mary Gergen in her paper, Feminist Reconstructions in Psychology, points out that simply from a gender perspective, “…boys and girls are raised to regard their life trajectories differently.” The social, cultural, familial, religious and class expectation combine to prescribe a set of values that are acceptable and expected for each of us.

So, identity is a cultural as well as an individual construct. The power in understanding this is, as we discussed in episode 001,  that this realization creates an understanding that at the very least, allows for a step away from absolutes. If you were born in China and your culture provided reason and expectation that women should have bound feet, or if you came from a culture where female circumcision was expected, or just because you were raised around prejudice or grew up with stories where “others” were marginalized, criticized, or harmed, doesn’t mean that we can’t seek for other models. While much of the world considers all of these atrocities, those within the cultures have accepted those actions and interpretations of life and people as acceptable and often even crucial to living in the way life is supposed to be lived for them. It is the understanding that these expectations are created by people who came before us and around us, and that that doesn’t necessarily make them right ways of thinking or being that becomes crucial. In fact, doing the work of stepping away from those culture constructs and finding other stories and models becomes crucial to examining life possibilities and the easiest way to expand our minds and to look at other ways of being is to find new models. This is where we begin to listen with open hearts to stories from people all over the world. To consider all the ways of living and to not define or marginalize our own lives because they didn’t turn out exactly as was prescribed by the culture we were raised in.

I believe that part of accepting our stories is this understanding that there are multiple ways to live a life well. Understanding the fluidity and the man-made nature of expectation also gives us the understanding that because others say our story is not acceptable, does not make it so. If you need logical reasons to accept your story, there you have them.

A more emotion based reason to accept your story is that you are beautiful and perfect. Your authentic self, the self before the experiences of living drug you through the mud a bit and had you wrapping yourself in protective armor, is fantastic and brilliant. You get to accept yourself just as you are – with all the scrapes and bruises, bullet wounds and scars, because there are the marks of living, learning and growing.

Let’s close with the same quote we opened with: Debbie Ford said, “The greatest act of courage is to be and own all that you are. Without apology, without excuses, and without one’s masks to cover the truth of who you really are.”

We live, we love, we fall, we try, we are, and we are doing our best. Accepting what is becomes crucial to moving forward and accepting your path, your life, your stories, yourself. Embrace your path and own it!

We’ll see you next Wednesday for Step #2 for reframing your story. Work this week on accepting your story and Have fun creating your big, bold, wonderful story today! Pass this podcast series along to someone today who might find great relief in learning how to reframe their stories. Do a little good in the world and share the love. Also, go to www.loveyourstorypodcast.com and sign up for the free mini-ebook on the five steps for reframing the parts of your story that feel broken. It can serve as a workbook on the process we are going through in this series. And if you would like to go to the next level, and take onlineline workshop with activities and exercises to help you get into more detail with these steps, go to the website and sign up. Lata fellow story makers.

 

About the author, Lori

Author of four books and over 100 magazine and newspaper articles, Lori found a fascination with the personal narrative during her master's degree research in Folklore at Utah State University. Coming to understand the nuance and power of story, the automatic but unrecognized uses, the cultural curtains that story pulls back for us to peak behind, she let her excitement spill over into her own journey of personal empowerment and the excitement of sharing it all with others.

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