What Stories and Rules Do You Live By?

A client explained that she grew up in a family in which her parents argued a lot and her brother was a “loose cannon.” She would do whatever was necessary to appease her brother and calm her parents, even if this created unhappiness for her. She continued to play this peacekeeper role through a series of challenging personal and professional relationships with demanding and narcissistic people, until she saw that she had, in fact, made this a recurring choice.

As humans, we are “meaning makers.” When events occur, we naturally construct stories to explain or create meaning from them. We use our past experiences as a lens through which we interpret comments, successes, or disappointments. We might have experienced a betrayal in our life that led us to believe that people cannot be trusted, or that nothing ever works out for us. When a similar event happens, we use it to reinforce this belief, rather than looking for other possibilities or finding more empowered ways of dealing with the situation. Frequently unaware of these controlling stories, we continue to see the world through those prisms.

I recently saw the power of internal beliefs clearly demonstrated in the contrast between two patients. Just over a year after her husband died, the first patient reported t hat she h ad sold t heir house. “I have to move on,” she explained. She commented that it was her responsibility to make a new life. The second patient, 20 years after her husband and mother died, rejected any suggestion that might have improved her situation and reiterated that, “I would be a happy person if these things hadn’t happened to me.”

As a professional coach, I work with people who are dissatisfied with at least part of their lives. They want to be happier or find a more satisfying way to live. Change comes as they examine the stories they’ve made up to explain what happened to them. As they uncover the rules they feel they must live by, they find greater power as they make other, more conscious choices. Passion and joy follows.

What are the stories and rules that fuel your choices? Do you believe that you must care for others before yourself? That you must continually strive to earn love, acceptance, or belonging? That you must temper your happiness, success, or enthusiasm? Does life happen to you, or are you an active participant in deter mining your life’s course? By bringing these ideas to the forefront, examining where they came from and deciding whether we want them to run our lives, we regain more power to create the life we truly want.


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