Moving Forward With Your Story - Part III

Recently my boss and very dear friend wrote an article about the importance of sharing your life story. She talked about the power the story carries and how speaking with a therapist can help provide you with new insights and tools. In my work as a therapist at the Samaritan Counseling Center, I have worked with many people, helping them tell their stories, and begin to see those stories differently.

One of the most common issues I help people address during counseling is the idea that they are not good enough, that somehow they have been judged and found wanting. The interesting part of this is while clients may have this feeling, so do most of the other people around us, and thus we are all afraid that everyone else can see our flaws and faults, while in reality they are likely afraid that we are busy judging their flaws. Regardless, in our own mind, everyones eyes are on us and we have to continue to hide what we know to be the truth, that we are really less than they are. Thus at a minimum we routinely judge ourselves, and when we do, we frequently set a standard for ourselves that is impossible to meet and that we would never expect of anyone else.

As I stated earlier, this is a very common and recurring theme in therapy. This makes sharing your story difficult. Additionally, some of those moments that are a part of our past, we view as defining us, leaving us tainted, and feeling shamed. All of us have triumphs and tragedies in our stories; times when we have been proud of ourselves and times when we have been embarrassed. For a lot of us, our stories have a legacy of significant shame as well. Somehow along the way we learn that the experiences we have undergone are our own fault and that they need to be hidden away so that others won't look at us and judge us. There is an incredible fear that when others learn of these experiences, they will suddenly see us as we see ourselves, sullied and broken. These dirty little secrets can be a history of abuse, mental illness, victimization, learning disabilities, addiction, a really bad decision, or just about anything else.

No matter what our secret, someone else has had a similar experience. We are not alone. Discovering this and learning that we have been unreasonable in our expectations for ourselves can provide an unimaginable freedom. Suddenly, we are not sullied and broken, just a little more mature and wiser.

The truly amazing thing is that when we give voice to these experiences they stop being our personal Everest, and instead become just one aspect of who we are. They no longer define us. By talking about and sharing these secrets, we become able to identify characteristics and thought patterns that not only are not helpful, but if fact frequently get in the way of our being healthy and fully happy.

One word of caution though, if you do carry this type of shame, when you share your story, do so with a trained counselor. The counselor will help defuse the strong emotions associated with the experience. She or he will help you identify and challenge your irrational belief around the situation. Additionally, she/he will not judge you regardless of the experience or the choices you made to cope with it. These are crucial needs if you are to develop a realistic view of the situation and move forward with your life. It is sometimes a sad truth that what we have experienced may be beyond the understanding of some of our friends. Therefore, a counselor can also help you identify the people in your life who are safe to share with and who will be there to offer their encouragement and support. Learning to let go of the legacy of shame we have carried empowers us to become the person we are capable of being.

April Wilson, LSW, is a counselor at the Samaritan Counseling Center, a non-profit counseling center in Edwards, CO. April can be contacted at 970-926-8558.