January 4, 2016
This is a time of personal reflection. The ending of one year and the beginning of another prompts many of us to review where we’ve been and where we’re going. If you are undertaking such a task, I invite you to take your practice deeper. Look beyond the resolve to lose weight in the new year. God ahead and sign up (again) for that gym membership, but commit to identifying the “story” you live out everyday, particularly the part where you talk ugly to yourself about yourself. The next thing you know, you have broken another resolution.
A former colleague and good friend of mine directed many of his counseling clients to look at their “story” and the “character” they play in a kind of novel that is their lifespan. He then helped these individuals distinguish between what is story and what is issue. A great number of us walk around with all of the childhood memories, teenage angst, and young adult worries swirling around us. We behave, most of us, accordingly, as if we are fated to play the character of the bullied overweight child, let’s say, forever. Some of us can see beyond the story and put those painful memories and messages in their proper place. Some of us cannot.
Those that cannot usually are not aware that they are living out a “victim” story. These individuals respond to people and events much like a character would in a book who has been wronged a number of times. Now they are seeking some sort of retaliation or happy ending. It’s a story with conflict and drama. It’s a wonderful read for a bestseller, but it is exhausting and sometimes tragic when played out in real life.
The victim story is what I hear most often in my own counseling practice. The story usually depicts someone who initially blames others for their unhappiness. In the case of someone who wants to lose weight, he may blame family for feeding him too much as a child, or a wife who buys too much junk food, or a stressful job that makes fast food at the desk the only lunch he has time for. Then he blames himself. A lot. “I’m weak and I’ve always been weak.” Or, “I never get it right with my diet. I always screw things up.”
To help the client close the book on his story, we sift the issue out from the story. If my client is truly uncomfortable with his weight yet has a difficult time with diet and exercise, we identify the critical self-talk emerging from old tapes in his head. Then we develop new self-talk and “record” those messages to replace the negative chatter. We replace “I never” or “I always” with “sometimes” because I’ve learned when “never” or “always” enters the dialogue between me and a client, a story is sure to follow. We focus on the actual issue, the true barrier between him and the gym and a lower calorie count. And I regularly bring his attention to the present, the here and now. He is an adult. He is safe. No more bullies. He now has an adult voice and is able to stand up for himself in a way he may not have been able to in the past.
Interwoven in this exploration is work on self-forgiveness. He practices forgiving himself for the times he strayed from the diet or the workout. Kinder self-talk helps keep the present in perspective. A slip up with cake does not mean he has to live out his story again. It’s just cake. We work on forgiving the younger self, too. He begins to see how his adult self continues to hold his nine year old self accountable for decisions a nine year old makes with a nine year old brain. A child sneaking Snickers and Doritos everyday in his bedroom or closet does not have the capacity to understand the ramifications of such self-soothing. Yet my client will judge “him” over and over again. That’s damaging to self-esteem. It’s painful talk that keeps him wrapped up in story. Forgiving ourselves is an act of kindness and it is necessary if we want to see our resolutions through.
My sincere hope for you all in 2016 is that you find release from that “story” holding you back from whatever personal goal you have set for yourself. We are known for our storytelling here in the South. It is a part of our heritage. When it comes to our personal growth, however, we would do well to set aside the story of our past and simply deal with the facts of today. And the fact is…you are a wonderful, amazing being!