“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” — Maya Angelou
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” — Brené Brown
One of the many privileges of being a therapist is hearing the story of each individual, the good and the bad, the easy and the difficult, the joyful and the dark moments. My clients are so brave to step out in vulnerability, and it is my job to hold this space for them, to help honor who they are. In my opinion, each person has an incredible story, one that helped shape them into the person they are today. If you are honored enough to hear someone’s story, please handle it like the rare and special gift that it is.
I will be quoting a lot from Brené Brown in this post. For those who are unfamiliar with Brené, Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She is the author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers.
We each have a story; one that is full of experiences, feelings, situations, and people who help shape who we are. Somehow in our journey, we begin to pick and choose which pieces to share and which pieces to hide or tuck away. We shrink our story down so that it looks like the highlights on a Facebook page…where everything looks perfect. But what about those moments that we hide?
Without sharing the good and the bad of our story, we miss out on honoring who we really are, we miss the opportunity to connect with others, and we miss out on being fully known. So why do we leave out the hard, painful, traumatic, and shameful pieces of our past? As Brené Brown so beautifully writes, “The most difficult part of our story is often what we bring to it—what we make up about who we are and how we are perceived by others. Yes, maybe we failed or screwed up a project, but what makes my story so painful is what we tell ourselves about our own self-worth and value.” What have you told yourself about the difficult pieces of your story? Perhaps you have blamed yourself, believing that if you were only stronger or braver things would not have happened. Maybe you shame yourself for these difficult moments, “If people really knew this about me, they would not like or accept me.” Brené Brown states, “The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity.” Ask yourself these questions. What parts of your story are you afraid to tell? What messages are you telling yourself about these difficult parts?
Brené Brown goes on to say, “Owning our stories means acknowledging our feelings and wrestling with the hard emotions—our fear, anger, aggression, shame, and blame. This isn’t easy, but the alternative—denying our stories and disengaging from emotion—means choosing to live our entire lives in the dark.”
Owning our stories is powerful and transformative! As Brené Brown states, “When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.” What brave new ending do you desire?
If we deny our hurt and struggle, it will own us. In order to stand in our truth and honor our story, we must give voice to our entire story. Brené Brown states, “You either walk into your story and own your truth, or you live outside of your story, hustling for your worthiness.” Brené Brown discusses some of what it means to write a brave new ending:
- We can’t smooth over hurt feelings in our families. It’s too easy for stockpiled hurt to turn into rage, resentment, and isolation. We must talk about it. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we’re tired.
- We can’t pretend our family histories of addiction and mental health issues don’t exist if our hope is to write a new story and create a legacy of emotional honesty and health for our children.
- We must own our failures and mistakes so that we can learn and grow. It’s hard, but I’ve seen how doing so becomes part of a family’s culture, creating healing and wholeness. It doesn’t feel comfortable, but courage rarely does.
So how do we begin to own our story?
Thrive Global discusses four ways to begin owning your story.
- You and your story are worth celebrating! Your story is your own. Don’t change your story to make it fit someone else’s narrative.
- Your story will look different from other people’s, it’s yours not theirs! Your story is unique, full of highlights and struggles.
- The little victories are worth celebrating and the challenges grow and shape us. Each piece moves us closer to an ever growing victory. Acknowledging the struggles and the victories give us the motivation and confidence to keep moving forward.
- Your story has power, but only if you let it have power. Your story has the potential to give value to another individual, to comfort and inspire someone.
Brené Brown states, “Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement according to someone else doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world. Just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change its worth or ours.”
My final thoughts on sharing your story: Your story is your story, and only share it when you are ready and to the audience of your choice. You may share your story with your partner or therapist or another trusted individual. Do not feel pressured to share it to the world; listen to yourself and determine your audience. As Brené Brown states, “Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story? ”If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky.”
What is your story?
Alison Curtis, MS, LPC provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our Sterling, VA office and virtually to those located in the State of Maryland. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Alison!