Feeling Unseen and Misunderstood? How to Transform the Story You Tell Yourself

By Maggie Glennon, M.Ed

Understanding Our Mental Movie Reel

Our tiny human brains are suckers for a good story, aren't they? Whether it's the cozy narratives unfolding in those picturesque Hallmark Christmas villages on our TVs or the tales we spin in our own heads, we just can't get enough. But here's the thing: if we don't keep tabs on those inner stories, we can find ourselves in a heap of trouble.

Take me, for example. I'm usually busy taking care of everyone else, soaking up energies that aren't even mine, and I'm kind of a lone wolf, you know? Introverted and all about my own space. But when I forget to hit pause and check in with my own mental movie reel, things can go south real quick.

Suddenly, I'm stuck in a flick where I'm the lead role, but it's not a blockbuster. Nope, it's more like a low-budget indie film where I'm convinced I suck at everything. No one notices my efforts, nothing I do seems to matter, and bam—I'm feeling about as important as a forgotten sock in the laundry. And thanks to my brain's ancient wiring, designed to keep our ancestors safe from saber-toothed tigers, this gloomy movie starts to color everything around me. I'm seeing threats and danger where there's really just everyday life. And you know what's crazy? I start adding extra drama to the script, like some kind of overzealous set designer.

Next thing I know, I'm a sobbing mess, feeling like the world's biggest loser with about as much confidence as a deflated balloon. So, what's a person to do in that situation?

Choosing Your Path: Navigating Inner Narratives

Ah, here we are at the classic fork in the road moment of our little saga. Now, let me tell you something—I'm not just spouting philosophy here; I'm speaking from firsthand experience. But let's not kid ourselves; it's not like one path leads to a magical land of unicorns and rainbows (although, personally, I'd prefer capybaras and river otters). Both paths might seem pretty similar at first glance—kind of muddy, a bit dimly lit, with those pesky insecurities shouting at you from the treetops.

But here's the kicker: it's all about where each path ultimately leads. If you opt for path number one and decide to challenge that dreary indie flick playing in your mind, you'll start noticing things that light you up along the way. You'll catch glimpses of brightness, feel more assured as you stride towards what truly matters to you.

Now, as for path number two, well, things can get a tad darker on that route. The stories intensify, pushing us further into the realm of fear and away from our core values. But fear not, my friend, because even if you find yourself on path number two, there's always a chance to take a detour and veer back onto path number one. It might be a bit trickier to make that shift, but trust me, it's never too late to reroute.

Making the Choice to Change the Story

If you're still hanging in there with me, I'm guessing you're wrestling with some stories of your own right about now. Maybe they're echoing something like this:

  • I'm fed up with constantly being overlooked, like my voice doesn't even matter.
  • It's suffocating, this sensation of being invisible in a sea of people.
  • I'm worn out from always feeling like I fall short, no matter how hard I try.
  • It's like I'm reaching for something just beyond my grasp, leaving me feeling empty inside.

Or perhaps your inner dialogue is completely different. But hey, I reckon you've stuck around this long because those stories are hitting a nerve, making you squirm a bit at this crossroads. And while it might take some time to unravel these tales completely, believe it or not, just acknowledging their presence can work wonders. It stops us from sprinting further away from our true selves and desires.

So, are you game to start shaking things up a bit? Grab hold of your curiosity, self-compassion, and courage, and let's give these exercises a whirl.

Acknowledging and Addressing Stories

Now, I totally get it—shining a spotlight on the stuff that's causing us pain might seem like the last thing we want to do. But trust me on this: the first step toward finding even a sliver of relief is to slow down and acknowledge that you're caught up in a story. However, if you stop there, you might only scratch the surface of easing your discomfort. When these stories have really taken hold, we need to dig a little deeper.

So, what's the next move? Well, it's about getting into the nitty-gritty of the tale you've been weaving. And when I say "figuring out," I don't mean diving headfirst into problem-solving mode. No, it's more like shining a flashlight on those stories. I know, it might sound a tad out there, but think about it: a screaming toddler can wreak havoc until someone notices them. And guess what? That story in your head? It's like a screaming toddler.

This step isn't about trying to fix anything; it's simply about turning and acknowledging. Just like when you make eye contact with that screaming kid, there's often a momentary pause. And that's exactly what we're aiming for here.

Unpacking the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Now, there are plenty of ways you can tackle this next step, but let me share two of my personal favorites.

These stories tend to run deep because we allow them to play out entirely in our heads. So, when it comes to shifting them, I've found a lot of power in making them visible. Now, there are two ways I particularly like to do this, but feel free to find your own method that works best for you.

Method One: Journaling

First up, I crack open my trusty journal and put pen to paper. Of course, if typing is more your style, that's totally fine too—do whatever feels most comfortable. I create a safe space for myself; it might involve snuggling up with my dog or finding a quiet spot in my car by the beach. Then, I dive right in and start writing about what's going on. Here are some prompts that I've found really helpful:

  • The story I am telling myself about this situation is….
  • The story I am telling myself about this obstacle right now is…
  • The story I am telling myself about this relationship right now is…
  • The story I am telling myself about how I feel right now is…

Here’s an example of a story I’ve been telling myself recently:

The story I am telling myself about this situation right now is that I am way in over my head and am not using my strengths. I am stuck in a vicious cycle and it’s just making me feel worse and like I don’t belong. Everyone is better at this than me and I never should’ve gotten myself here in the first place. I don’t belong anywhere and I’m an idiot for thinking I could belong here.

Method Two: Tarot or Oracle Cards

Now, if you're more inclined to think in images, here's another approach you might find intriguing. Personally, I'm a fan of using my tarot or oracle cards for this exercise. It might raise a few eyebrows, but hey, I'm all about infusing a bit of creativity into my self-care routine.

So, I'll grab a deck of cards and start scanning the images. I'll pull out any cards that seem to resonate with what's been swirling around in my head. Sometimes, I'll just pull four cards, but if I've been concocting an elaborate tale in my mind, I might end up with a whole stack! The idea here is to create a visual representation of the story that's been dominating my thoughts. Sure, seeing it laid out in front of me isn't always a walk in the park, but more often than not, it gives me a sense of empowerment over the situation.

Extending Self-Compassion

After you’ve brought your story into the light, give yourself a pat on the back. By doing so, you’ve already taken a significant step in reclaiming power over your thoughts. Now, it's time to decide what to do with this newfound awareness.

When I'm practicing this myself, this is the moment I like to infuse a bit of self-compassion. After all, it takes courage to confront our inner narratives, especially when we're not feeling our best. So, here's an invitation for you: Take that story and imagine a close friend or even your beloved pet confiding the same thoughts to you.

Take a few moments to jot down what you would say to them. Odds are, it wouldn't be the harsh criticisms you've been directing at yourself. While this may feel a bit forced at first, especially if extending grace isn't your forte, give it a shot and see what arises.

Here’s what I imagined a friend might say to me about my story:

It's okay to struggle, and it's okay to feel like you don't belong sometimes. But trust me, you have unique strengths and qualities that make you worthy and valuable, even if it doesn't feel that way right now. You're not an idiot for trying; you're brave for stepping into new challenges, and I believe in you, even when you might not believe in yourself.

Rewriting the Inner Script

Once you've recognized the narrative that's been wreaking havoc, you're presented with an opportunity to rewrite it. The very human inclination to weave stories that led us to this unpleasant state is precisely what we can harness to navigate our way out of it. Pretty neat, huh?

For this next step, we'll employ the same approach we used before with our journals or cards, but with a twist. Instead of pinpointing the story we're currently telling ourselves, we'll identify the story we'd prefer to have as our backdrop.

Here are some prompts to get you started:

  • The story I want to tell myself about this situation is….
  • The story I want to tell myself about this obstacle right now is…
  • The story I want to tell myself about this relationship right now is…
  • The story I want to tell myself about how I feel right now is…

If that feels like too much of a stretch, you can always mix it slightly by using these prompts:

  • The story I want someone to tell me about this situation is….
  • The story I want someone to tell me about this obstacle right now is…
  • The story I want someone to tell me about this relationship right now is…
  • The story I want someone to tell me about how I feel right now is…

Here’s how I rewrote my story:

You’re struggling right now because the work you’re doing and the people you are working with matter greatly to you. When someone tells you a way you could do something differently, it isn’t because they think you’re an idiot, it’s because you belong in this space and they want you to feel successful. If they didn’t care, they would let you flounder. It’s uncomfortable because it’s new and you are growing and it’s been a long time since you’ve challenged yourself in these ways.

If you went the visual route, you can do the same thing. Just pull out the cards that look more like the situation you’d prefer at this moment.

Integrating New Narratives into Everyday Life

Now that you've got some fresh insights into this story and a clearer picture of what a more helpful version might look like, you've got a golden opportunity to start seeing some real-world shifts.

Here are some ways you can weave the work you just did into your everyday life:

  • Be Mindful: Keep an eye out for moments when the troublesome story rears its head. When you catch it in action, it's totally okay to give yourself a little mental nudge and say, "Hey, there's that story again," or "I'm spinning a tale right now."
  • Extend Self-Compassion: Then, think about what you'd say to a friend in the same situation and what kind of story you'd rather be living. Look for small steps you can take to edge closer to those preferred versions.
  • Be Curious: Notice any patterns in when that story gets the loudest. Maybe it's in certain places or around certain people. Take a curious peek into why it's acting up more there than in other parts of your life.

Just remember, this isn't an overnight fix, especially if these stories have been ingrained for a while. It's a process, so give yourself the time and space to work through it at your own pace.

If you're feeling a bit swamped by this whole process or find yourself stuck in the same old story loop time and time again, it's totally normal to need a little extra backup until your new narrative starts to take root. And one fantastic way to get that support? Working with a coach. They're pros at spotting blind spots, helping you tackle those tricky thoughts, and walking right alongside you as you make your way through this journey. So, don't hesitate to reach out and get the help you need – you're not alone in this!

The End of This Story

Stories can be entertaining or heartbreaking, and the ones we tell ourselves are no different. They can either propel us towards paths of possibility or ensnare us in webs of doubt and fear. But we always have the ability to rewrite them, and to shape our reality with narratives that uplift and empower. So, as you step back into your daily life, keep a watchful eye on the stories that shape your world. And if ever you find yourself overwhelmed or caught in the loop of familiar stories, remember: it is okay to ask for help!