The Stories We Tell Ourselves

October 4, 2019

“We may not be able to control everything that happens to us, but we can always control the story we tell around it, and choose to seek beauty even in the ugliest situations.”

– Jo Harvey Weatherford, from her TEDx Talk “Rewriting the Story of My Addiction”

We all have a story. It’s part of what makes us human, makes us unique, and at times ties or connects us to others. People often believe that what creates the foundation of these stories is the events that make them up; the things in life that we have experienced, seen, heard, and felt.

In therapy, what people may start to see and believe is that while our experiences are without a doubt an important detail of our life’s story, it’s the stories within the story that create the themes, characters, plots, and more. It’s the stories we tell ourselves about the story itself – the meaning that we assign. It’s the why’s – why certain things happen, or don’t. It’s the how’s – the way that things happen, the process, the chain of events. It’s the resulting beliefs – what it says about us or others or the world around us. As we unpack our stories, share them with openness and with courage, we begin to recognize that parts of our story might not be true, and may have been hurtful to us overtime. Some might call these our “stuck points” or “irrational thoughts.” These thoughts and beliefs have been influenced by our experiences and perceptions, relationships and interactions with others, trauma, self-doubt, fear or anxiety, and the list goes on. The tricky part is that our brain can then treat these thoughts and beliefs as factual and true. This then impacts how we feel (about ourselves, others, the world, our safety, trust in self and others) and what we do (choices we make, relationships we enter, patterns).


“Therapy is not about becoming. It’s about unbecoming all the things you thought you had to be to be loved.”

– Hillary McBride, Therapist, Researcher, Speaker, and Writer

Therapy offers a space, hopefully one that feels safe, comforting, and validating, to share our story. To say it out loud, some parts maybe for the first time. Therapy allows us to begin to unpack and break down the stories within the story. This process allows us to build self-compassion, create connection and understanding within the self, and rebuild our stories in a way that honors our truth and lifts the (sometimes longstanding) fog – such as shame and guilt, confusion and anger. It’s been my experience, as a therapist and also in my own life, that sometimes it’s not until we say something out loud, write it down, or receive validation from someone else, and hopefully from ourselves too, that we realize how much we’ve been holding and carrying around with us. The impressive part is that often times, we are still able to function, push through, carry on, even with everything that we are holding inside and juggling day to day. Sometimes though – we can’t. It impacts functioning, it impacts our day to day life, relationships, work, and mood. We are human and we have our limits. We reach capacity.

Therapy doesn’t have to be the only space for this work. We can hold ourselves through this process, set boundaries, and reach out to trusted, empathetic people in our lives. We can find the things in life that make us feel good – friends, art, music, nature, hobbies – and turn towards them. We can use affirmations, practice mindfulness, do yoga, journal, take a walk, rest, meditate, or just slow down to notice. And as we slow down and begin to find more comfort in being open, hopefully it is accompanied by a sense of empowerment, confidence, and control. We are reclaiming our stories. Be patient and gentle as you unpack and understand your story on a deeper level. You deserve it.


“In the end, you’re the author… Do not let anyone write your story. Write your own story.”

– Jorge R. Gutierrez, from his TEDx Talk, “Every Picture Tells a Story – The Book of Life”

written by

Caitlin Heffernan

Caitlin is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW-C) and obtained her undergraduate degree in Psychology from James Madison University and her Master’s in Social Work from University of Maryland. Caitlin has worked with children, families, and adults providing therapy in home, community, and office settings. Through this work, Caitlin has supported individuals and families with complex trauma histories, PTSD, Depression, Anxiety, life transitions and stressors, and issues related to family dynamics or family of origin.
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