In the field of Narrative Psychology we are beginning to discover just how powerful our "stories" are. We have all heard the accounts of primitive tribes where stealing was considered taboo, so much so that the thief would have the hand that they stole with wither up and atrophy. We all marvel at accounts like this that speak to our susceptibility to the power of suggestion. Most of us scoff at the thought or dismiss it as something that afflicts those with a weaker constitution than ours. Yet we are now discovering the impact of the power of suggestion and in particular how powerful it is when we are writing that narrative or suggestion.
The biggest story we write is our story. We create narratives and context, heroes and villains, and arrange the events of our existence into some kind of coherent context. This serves to give our lives structure and underscores and reinforces the essential truths that we have created about ourselves. And these are broad landscapes indeed with family legends passed down from grandparents, parents and relatives. Stories such as "the women in our family have always been healers" and these traits are woven together with personal history "I have a real gift of helping the sick and volunteer time at the local hospital" and thus they become part of an elaborate story that we create of our lives.
Impact On Identity
Sometimes the events of our lives take on mythical proportions which is not to suggest that we are lying or deluded but we construct our stories to reinforce what we choose as the high (or low) points of our personal identity. "I was a tomboy and I climbed a 1000 trees and beat up a hundred boys when I was young!" We even make fun of those narratives such as the standard "When I was your age I walked ten miles to school, in bare feet, uphill, both ways!"
It is in this part of our "story" that things can get really interesting. We create both positive and negative qualities for our main character - us. Most of us will have a mix of both but some folks will be much more positive than negative and some will tend to lean toward the negative side of things. These features of our character will be shaped by the stories of others in our lives such as our parents and family and the messaging that they insert into our story. These also can be both positive or negative. In their excellent narrative on this issue John and Stasi Eldridge in their research speak to the role of our parents and in particular our father with respect to the messaging they speak into our lives and its impact. We do (and will) however, add a lot of our own narrative and most of this will happen without us even realizing it.
Redemptive or Contaminating
Our stories tend to fall into either redemptive (overcoming an obstacle and succeeding) or contaminating (once everything was perfect and then "something" happened that changed all of that) genres. In redemptive stories our protagonist (us) is heroic and dynamic. In contaminant stories our protagonist (us) is more passive and leans toward being a victim.
What is Your Story?
Our stories are very powerful indeed and we will filter everything through that narrative. So my question for you today is this: "What is your story?" Are you a hero or victim? Is your story redemptive or contaminating? These are important questions to consider not only for personal reasons but also because of the impact that your story can have in your work and career. What do you expect for yourself at work and why? Good things or bad? Do you deserve that promotion or not? Your personal narrative will be at play in how you answer these types of questions. Take time today to exam your story and what it says about you. Does your story hold you captive or set you free?
By the way; in case you aren't happy with how you see your story remember this; the last chapters are still waiting to be written and you are able to change that narrative any time you decide you need to. Performance Leadership - Think About It!