First, let’s define what a story is, whether it be fictional or actual, cultural or societal, business or personal.
A story is a single or a succession of happenings, thoughts, feelings and experiences, especially those that lead to a chain of events or situations, or repeating patterns, and can be expressed in concrete terms.
My area of special interest in stories is our personal stories.
Personal stories can be categorised in two main groups: our external stories and our inner ones.
External stories can be witnessed or quantified by other people, and often are experienced by and with others. We can easily share our external stories with those we choose.
What many of us don’t pay attention to is how our external stories affect our inner stories, although it’s more often true and real that our inner stories dramatically compel and influence our external stories.
Our external stories can highlight any areas and issues of contradiction from our known selves, ie the versions of our self we’re comfortable with and show other people. By choosing to behave in a certain way, for example, we can change our attitudes to something.
Peter thought of himself as a brave person and spoke scathingly about ‘life’s cowards’, including homeless people.
. . . Until the day he faced one of those ‘cowardly’ homeless people, a woman bundled in blankets and plastic bags.
As he opened his mouth to hurl his usual question, “Why don’t you get a job?”, a flare of reflection on his sunglasses made him hesitate and look towards the distant origin of the reflection.
Not seeing anything, he turned back to the homeless woman, opened his mouth, and noticed the front of her bundle of blankets and plastic bags was moving.
Then he heard the cry. A tiny, pathetic cry. A newborn’s cry.
The woman was a new mother!
Anger fired up in him at her irresponsibility to bring a child into the world without being able to care for it.
He opened his mouth to spew his anger at her.
She, oblivious to the well-dressed man standing in front of her, smiled as she uncovered her baby’s head from the blankets, kissed the rosy cheeks, inched her well-worn shirt up her thin chest, and allowed her baby to feed.
She smiled at her baby’s determined suckling. Her baby was her world.
Peter had never seen his wife look at their healthy, well-fed, spoilt children like that. Ever.
For the first time in as long as he could remember, Peter swallowed his anger, and edged away.
As he did, he really looked at the woman and her surroundings. Her clothes were worn but not dirty. Her skin was clean. Scrubbed. Her hair was combed. Even her blankets looked to be quality material that had served its purpose for a longer time than manufactured for.
She had chosen her spot well, out of the bulleting wind between the high rises, on the highest point of the potholed laneway. Behind her was a sturdy-looking cardboard tent, held in place by a creative use of pallets; her belongings in an orderly pile inside. Bedding had been rolled away. He glimpsed cans in a shopping bag, and some basic toiletries in a plastic bag. Everything was neat, clean and smelled of something sweet.
This woman wasn’t a coward; she was tougher than him.
She was a freaking Titan in life.
Peter behaved differently in this situation—coming across a person he would normally consider one of ‘life’s cowards’, and that change in behaviour forced a change in his attitude to homeless people, and also increased his awareness of what true parental love and responsibility meant.
Unlike our external and known stories, our inner stories are rarely known by us or expressed.
Inner stories cannot be witnessed unless we know them and consciously choose to share them. This is a rare event.
We simply do not know most of our inner stories, even though they have a huge ability to affect, influence and shape our whole life, and our whole self.
That’s because the majority of our inner stories are hidden away in our unconscious, working behind the scenes in our lives to direct, produce, animate and create us, rather than out in front of the camera of life being easily witnessed by others.
We have no real clue our inner stories are there, but we sure know that *something* is compelling us to act, react, think and feel in specific ways.
Those inner stories form our beliefs, values, woundings, attitudes and expectations, and originate from our conditionings, perceptions, experiences and other triggers of learning.
Similar to the Iceberg of culture (C Lago), our inner stories that we consciously use to direct externally-based happenings, thoughts, feelings and experiences, are only the tip of the whole of our inner stories, and their impact.
And, therefore, our life.
Like the spur of the iceberg that perforated the shell of the Titanic, leading to its inevitable destruction, our inner stories directly affect us in many unseen, unknowable ways. Many of our inner stories lead to harm in our lives.
(There are helpful inner stories too but, as most people don’t need or want them to change, I’m not going to discuss them here.)
Most of our inner stories, similar to the majority of the bulk of the iceberg being hidden under water, are beyond our view; they are unknown, submerged under our consciousness in the shadowy depths of our subconscious and unconscious.
These inner stories live and thrive in those dark places within our psyches, which we rarely acknowledge or venture into.
They take root in our very cells—that is how deep and firm a hold our inner stories have on us.
WHERE DID THESE INNER STORIES COME FROM?
They come from within our selves, especially via our perceptions, and all those people, situations, events and issues around us.
Each inner story was seeded inside us by our families and our surroundings, starting from our conception, and continuing and expanding our whole lives.
As the unconscious inner stories of our families, friends, teachers, peers, community and other influencers played out around us, we absorbed them all, using them to form, to confirm and influence, to compel and nurture our own unconscious inner stories, becoming our beliefs, values, opinions, judgements, experiences, attitudes, behaviours, choices, filter of interpretations, and, especially, our woundings.
Many of the inner stories we inherited from others were never directly spoken to us, but originated from our interpretation and perception of external events, people, situations and ideas.
Every time another person’s inner story is expressed or repeated around us, our own related inner story gains power, whether that inner story is sympathetic or opposite to the one being played out before us.
Every time we play out one of our own inner stories, we nurture it, and it sinks even further and stronger within us; it also affects everyone else around us.
Each inner story we unconsciously nurture in this way becomes a repeating pattern, eventually becoming so obvious that it becomes a repeating external story.
Every.single.thing in our lives is based on our inner stories.
- Who we choose to partner with.
- How we think of and interact with others.
- How we approach ideas.
- How we go about our daily lives.
- What our prevalent mood and disposition is.
There is no avoiding our inner stories.
It’s better to know and understand them, and to use them for our own healing and empowerment.