Releasing old stories to set myself free

Photo credit: Release! by Steve Smith, on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons licensing.


I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking deeply at some stories that are holding me back from becoming all that I feel called to be. In particular, there are messages that I have received from other people who tell me that I am irreparably flawed in ways that cut to the core of who I am and keep me from moving forward.

Even when I can see rationally that the stories I’ve been told about myself are likely ones that came out of the other person’s own wounding, I live in fear that these messages have accurately pointed out defects in me that I am otherwise blind to—defects that would cause me to be harmful to others.

The possibility that I am a destructive presence to those around me is my worst nightmare, and it keeps me from daring to put myself out there in the ways that I need to do to live into my longing to be a healing presence in the world.

What if my attempts to be a healing presence in the world are actually doing damage to the very people who most need healing? I can’t even bear the thought!

I’ve come to realize, though, that this fear of doing damage that is holding me back is not only by keeping me from doing the work that I have consistently felt called to do in various ways since I was child, but it’s actually making me more likely to hurt others because I am reacting to the world out of my smaller, pain-filled self rather than the fullness of who I am capable of being.

The only way to move forward from here is to release these messages I’ve received over the years, so I can be free from their choke hold on my life. These messages aren’t serving me in any way. They make me miserable and, in turn, deny others what I could offer if I didn’t have them standing in my way. They cause me to do the very harm I so wish to avoid by crippling my ability to do good.

Unfortunately, letting go of them seems to be the one thing I can’t do. These stories about myself haunt me, repeatedly whispering their poison into my thoughts at every turn. They tangle about my feet, tripping my steps each time I try to move forward. They weave themselves into invisible handcuffs that keep me from reaching out, and they bind my throat, choking out my ability to speak the kind words I wish to say and causing harsh croaks to come out in their place.

These stories have become noxious fumes that I breathe in with every breath until I see no escape from their insidious poison as they course through my bloodstream.

I know I am not alone in this. Most of us have received these destructive messages and painful stories about who we are that bind us in some way to being less than the person we are capable of being. Stories that keep us stuck, but from which we can find no escape.

In fact, my old post “I am not a nice person” has had substantially more views than any other post I’ve written from so many people searching that very phrase. I am clearly not the only one who is believing unkind stories about who I am and how I show up in the world.

I was talking about this with a close friend of mine a few days ago, and we explored a number of reasons why we find these harmful stories so hard to release.

One reason is often that these stories have become part of our identity in some way. These wounding stories about ourselves have become so entwined with our definition of who we are that to release them would feel like letting go of our very identity. We have forgotten who we are without them. So even though they continue to cause us pain, we cling to them to know who we are.

Another reason why we may hold on to these painful stories and old wounds is that it may feel like betrayal to let them go. Particularly if others have dismissed our accounts of what we have experienced in various ways, to let go of the experience would be adding self-betrayal to the betrayal of others because there would no longer be anyone who validated our experience of the wounding words or behavior.

It feels better to hold onto what has hurt us as a validation of ourselves and our life story than to let it go and feel like we are joining others in denying what we know to be true about our experience. (To be clear, it is possible to validate our experience of being wounded and still let it go, but it often doesn’t feel that way in the moment.)

Fear can be yet another reason why we hold onto these old stories. Fear that the stories are true, fear of the risks we would take if we knew they weren’t true, fear that we might discover even worse things about ourselves if we tried. Holding onto the old messages allows me to avoid the risk of failure, while giving me someone else to blame for my smallness.

All of these play into my own struggles to release these old stories I’ve been given about myself. They have wormed their way into my very identity such that I see myself as being a damaging, negative influence on others. I resist the perceived self-betrayal of letting them go because the damage these wounding stories did to me have so often been dismissed by others. And I am afraid that if I risk living into the kind of healing presence I long to be that I will indeed do damage, so it feels safer to stay miserable myself than to risk inflicting misery on others.

I still don’t have the answers about how to release these old stories for good, but I know I’ve reached the point where it is more painful to stay stuck that it is to do what needs to be done to let them go. The more I sit and look hard at my reasons for holding on, the more these reasons are beginning to dissolve and loosen their hold on me.

In so doing, I’m realizing that in letting go of those hurtful stories, what I’m really releasing is myself. I’m releasing myself to become all that I’m meant to be, which is bound to bring more good into the world than any small, caged version I am currently inhabiting, no matter what my very real faults may still be.

I am determined to do whatever it takes to let go of those old stories and old wounds. It’s time to release them in order to release me.

Will you join me? What old stories about yourself do you need to let go of to become all that you are meant to be? What keeps you stuck? What have you found to be useful in the past to help you release old stories that are holding you back?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, on social media, or via private message to learn what has worked for you!

7 thoughts on “Releasing old stories to set myself free

  • April 16, 2014 at 8:28 am
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    I appreciate this post as I can identify with these words and as a psychotherpist I have sit with many others who struggle with this theme of releasing the old as they yearn to build a new story. Personally, I feel the fear of letting go of the old as it has become layered with protection for me. The safety net of then I don’t have to let go and step into the unknown, what if I do fail, can I really do what I think it is that I feel is calling me, who do I think I am, etc. My point is that staying with the old supports me from de-layering and dismantling these other narrative constructs. I am a work in progress as I say! Thank you for the opportunity to put these words onto paper as I continue to pray for the courage to dismantle. “Always a work in progress.”

    • April 16, 2014 at 11:21 am
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      Oh, I love your point about the old stories becoming layered with protection! I had not thought about it quite that way, but it really resonates with me (meaning I must be doing that too). We are all works in progress, aren’t we? I always want to think that one of these days I’ll “arrive,” but I have to keep reminding myself over and over that it’s all a journey. (Sigh.)

      Thank you so much for commenting on this. You’ve given me more to consider about this tangled web of holding on in my own life, and I am so grateful for that!

  • April 16, 2014 at 9:14 am
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    I have to think of the book “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself” by Dr. Joe Dispenza. I think you would resonate with the “how” that is discussed in this book. I’ve carried the same 5-year old girl stories into my 40s and it’s probably morphed over time to suit my current pain and to keep me from moving forward. It’s like a huge rock with a chain around it that I drag around. Sometimes I revisit my 5-year old self and let her do whatever she wants and I ENCOURAGE her, rather than put her down. Since the story is now long gone, I don’t think it hurts to change the story as you remember it in the present. The more you rehearse the letting go of the story, the more the story will loosen its grip on you.

    • April 16, 2014 at 11:26 am
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      I can relate to the image of the huge rock with a chain that I drag around! That is exactly what this feels like. Even though this particular message I’m dealing with came much more recently, I suspect it taps into a childhood message I received (that’s no longer a conscious memory) so its roots are much deeper in me and much more powerful than would otherwise be the case.

      I will definitely look for a copy of the book you recommend! From the description I read on Amazon, it sounds like exactly what I am needing in its “how” focus. It’s one thing to know that I need to release this old story, it’s the “how” that’s often the hard part. Thank you!!

  • April 21, 2014 at 12:56 pm
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    Once again, your poignant post is particularly timely for me. I recently purchased Toni Bernhard’s book, “How To Be Sick,” a book for the chronically ill as well as their caregivers. Frankly, in my case, I am both. I mention this because I suspect it gives me more advantages than I yet know, not the least of which is looking at my illness from the caregiver’s perspective. As far as I am concerned, any distance one can get on a situation always broadens the perspective. I had never thought of being both until I began reading the book; of course, my whole being brightened at the possibilities

    Bernhard is a Buddhist so overall, she advocates the idea that life is practice, meaning we practice compassion, loving-kindness, equanimity, and joy for we will not always feel them but if we practice–go through the motions, anyway–we will make them more our own than if we do not practice and immerse ourselves in their opposites of blame, envy, hatred, and suffering. Does that make sense? T

    Truly, I believe it is the ego that blames, that constantly reminds us of stories, that cannot stop demanding explanations and offering “what if” scenarios. I am not my ego anymore than I am my illness; I am animating this body and this mind but I am neither. When I remember, I get some distance from the fear and the scenarios, and I gain objectivity. I know that the stories will always be there but in my practice of compassion, loving-kindness, equanimity and joy for and with all, they will only be stories without a root in me.

    This is a very long comment, and I apologize. Thank you for such a wonderful post that has yet again helped me.
    Karen

  • April 25, 2014 at 9:35 pm
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    It’s hard for me to conceive of you doing damage. You so obviously want to care lovingly for yourself, I’m sure it flows over into being loving to other people.

    • April 26, 2014 at 7:57 am
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      Thank you so much for this encouragement, Amy! I definitely do find that the degree to which I am kind and loving to myself is the degree to which I am able to be kind and loving to others. I have never been able to treat others any better than I treat myself over the long haul, and that’s really inspired me to treat myself better than I used to.

      Thanks again for your kindness and encouragement!

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