by Kayla Harlan, MSW, P-LSW, P-CADC
The concept of self-love is a mainstay in our society but for many, it can feel a little confusing or even cliche., While its premise is nice, it can be difficult to figure out what self love and care can look like for each of us. Our consumerist culture tends to put the focus on different external forces as the greatest forms of self-love, but what if it comes down to something much more personal and individualized? Maybe it starts by examining the ways in which we talk to ourselves and further, how we narrate our own stories. Perhaps you are aware of negative self talk and you know it is not helping, but silencing this inner narrator seems overwhelming or even implausible. It starts by getting curious about your own mind and looking at your inner workings without judgement.
First, it’s important to know that our brains are not trying to sabotage us...Rather the brain is just doing what the brain knows how to do based on our human evolution. Psychology Today writes: “Negative self-talk served an important evolutionary purpose. It comes from the default mode network, a brain circuit that helped people survive by aligning their interests with clan norms. Follow the standards of the group and you stay safe; step outside the lines and you risk ostracism and potential death. This is why the default mode is self-directed and critical—it's trying to keep you alive.” You may be thinking, “Okay, but we’re not hunters and gatherers anymore.... Why is my self-talk still so critical?” Although we live much different than our more primitive ancestors, our brains continue to operate based on evolutionary nature. So, how can we make the best of the brains we have and perhaps even use our own evolution to support us rather than hinder us?
This is where therapy comes in. It is no easy feat to create genuine shifts of consciousness and be nicer to our brains. This is especially true in times of life where it feels like we just can’t think our way out of a problem despite great effort. Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist and author of “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone,” says that the magic of therapy is due to the genuine connection and supportive environment that allows us to examine our own story without judgement so we can then work to shift some of the patterns that are not serving us.Here are a few of the questions Gottlieb poses to get curious and revise our stories:
1. Who are the characters in your story?
In other words, who is currently playing major roles in your life? How do these relationships affect you? Looking at the relationships in our life can help illuminate the unique aspects of our story, how we frame our story and the ways we want to evolve in our story.
2. What is the narrator of the story leaving out? What if the way you are telling your story in your mind is actually hindering you? Is there a way to shift your narrative that feels more in line with your values and dreams? The therapeutic relationship is a container where two humans can get curious about the stories we tell ourselves and then craft a more adaptable and nourishing way of living.
3. Can you view your story from the perspective of a different character? This question allows us to get curious about how our own narratives might be limiting or even self-sabotaging. If you could examine your story through the eyes of a different character in your life, how might their perspective be different than yours? We often give grace and kindness to other characters in our story while giving ourselves a much harder time.
4. What do I want my story to be? Gotlieb says that, “Life is about deciding which stories to listen to and which ones need an edit.” It’s simple, but oftentimes we need supportive others in our life to help us change our perspective. The relational dynamic that occurs in therapy gives us the space to edit our stories in a way that honors and supports everything that we are.
We can revise our stories to align with a greater sense of purpose and self-worth... Sometimes we just need the support of another human to help us get curious and create a more intentional and life-giving story line.