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An Unexamined and Unhealthy Story II: Moving Toward Health

brain and stethoscope

[This post assumes awareness and some thought about Part I]

C.S. Lewis’ story The Horse and His Boy provides a picture of the kind of story transformation I commend. The lead character, a boy named Shasta, reaches a sort of despair point in his journey. In a dark, cold mist, he cries,

“I do think,” said Shasta, “that I must be the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world. Everything goes right for everyone except me.”  

And being very tired and having nothing inside him, he felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.

C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy
boy in tears

A few seconds later, in the pitch dark, he hears breathing. The creature walks beside Shasta and eventually says, “Tell me your sorrows.”

After Shasta vents a lifetime of sorrows, the creature says, “I do not consider you unfortunate.”

The creature, who turns out to be Aslan the Lion, the ruler of Narnia, was not being hard or uncompassionate. He helped Shasta see he’d misinterpreted certain events, which led to his self-pity story. Shasta thought lions were chasing him with ill intent. But, in reality, Aslan was pursuing him to protect and help him. He gave the boy a new story.

At that point, “Shasta was no longer afraid that the voice belonged to someone that would eat him, nor was it the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too.

The story is a simplification, but it evokes the experience of having a distorted and healthy story that begins to heal. It was one of the first readings to awaken me to my distorted story.

Why is it Hard to Examine Your Story?

Many of us are unaware of our stories because self-examination and reflection are not prized values. We prefer productivity in the outer world and entertainment. A personal review does not seem practical-especially if your life feels ok. Instead of on our story, we focus on goals and plans, time management, productivity, and schedule. When we the tasks down and relax.

If you are like me, you feel some aversion to our story because of pain and shame, as Martin Laird wrote:

There is a deeply ingrained tendency to recoil from our own brokenness, to judge it as others have judged it, to loathe it as we have been taught over a lifetime to loathe it.

Martin Laird, Into The Silent Land
loathing man

Where are you at?

How aware of your story are you? Can you summarize the theme of your story easily, in less than two minutes? Is your awareness more in the sense of a chronicle of outward events?

Are you satisfied with your story?

Are you open to the possibility that your story is distorted?

Ways to Begin

There is no one way to begin thinking of your story. Some people would rather begin with the good memories, others with the experiences of pain that nag them. Further, some people prefer to start with specific memories of people, events, or places. Others begin with the big picture, looking for patterns.

Looking at Specific Scenes

I have found that exploring some memories loosens other memories, which can ge a real gift. See what happens when you try to recollect any of the suggested ones below. Rather than moving in order or trying them all just go with the one that grabs you first. Then decide if you want more.

  • Try to connect to one of your earliest memories of a parent.

  • Try to connect to one of your earliest memories of a place you lived.

  • Try to connect to one of your earliest memories of a physical object.

  • Try to connect to one of your earliest memories of a fun physical activity.

  • Try to connect to one of your earliest memories of beauty in nature.

  • Try to connect to one of your earliest memories of disappointment.

  • Try to connect to one of your earliest memories of being criticized.

Did anything emerge (positive or negative) that may have shaped your story?

Looking at the Big Picture

If you want to try to explore the bigger picture, ask yourself if you see a discernable arc or trajectory to your story? Is it an arc of success? An arc of failure? An arc of trauma or mistreatment?

When you think of yourself, how do you complete this: “I’m one who, over the years, has…”?

Types of Answers

It’s important here to try to uncover your feelings or intuitive interpretation of your story, not necessarily what the truth is. If a story is unhealthy, it’s not fully connected to reality. So, try to uncover the emotional story that might be operating in you.

Here are some variations. Consider if any resonate or lead you toward your current story.

  • “I’m one who, over the years, has accomplished a lot of what I set out to do.”
  • “I’m one who, over the years, has accomplished a lot of what I set out to do but came to realize it was BS. My ‘success’ was really a failure or waste of time.”
  • “I’m one who, over the years, has failed to accomplish a lot of what I set out to do.”
  • “I’m one who, over the years, has failed to accomplish a lot of what I set out to do because I was not given the talent nor taught the skills.”
  • I’m one who, over the years, failed has failed to accomplish a lot of what I set out to do because people wronged me. They didn’t appreciate me or give me a chance.”
  • “I’m one who did fail profoundly, but not in the way I thought or in the way people said I did. And that deeper failure was a door of freedom from the unhealthy ‘success’ I was formerly striving after.”
  • “I’m one who, over the years, has made a lot of friends.”
  • “I’m one who, over the years, has made a lot of friends because I work hard to love and take the initiative.”
  • “I’m one who, over the years, has made a lot of casual acquaintances but was not known by them.”
  • “I’m one who, over the years, has lost a lot of friends.”
  • “I’m one who, over the years, has lost a lot of friends because I’m too preoccupied. I didn’t prioritize relationships.”
  • “I’m one who, over the years, has lost a lot of friends because most people don’t give a damn.”
  • “I’m one who, over the years, has lost a lot of friends because people are harsh and judge me.”

These are just a few possible story arcs, but I hope they illustrate the different ways an interpretation can go.

The Emotional Tone of Your Story

facial expressions

Can you identify an overall emotional tone to your story?

  • Angry?
  • Loved?
  • Bored?
  • Blessed?
  • Unfairness?
  • Anxious?
  • Depression?
  • Fortunate?
  • Grief?
  • Joyful?
  • Hurt?
  • Neglected?

This post contained just a few of the many ways I’ve accessed and examined my story. In my next posts, I will share some scenes from my story, and offer further suggestions for unearthing and healing your story.

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