How Much of Your Story is Yours?

» Posted by on Apr 20, 2013 | 20 comments

How Much of Your Story is Yours?

When I was a child I was terrified of water. Being a Pisces I was also fascinated with it. I would get a bowl of water and submerge my dolls and farm animals in it so they could ‘go for a swim’, but I couldn’t swim myself. One of our neighbours was a swimming instructor and decided it would be useful to throw me in the deep end of the local pool when I was 5. I remember seeing all the legs above me as I sank to the bottom. It didn’t cure me – I would scream when my hair was being washed, because my head would be pushed under the running water and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

I was 8 when I went for my first swimming lesson and I remember it vividly. The teacher taught us to hold our breath when we were underwater. This might’ve been obvious to some people but I had never considered this, and no-one had ever explained it to me. She showed me how to put my face in the water and then turn my head to the side so I could breathe. It was a revelation.

When we got home, my father asked how my lesson had gone. I expected my mother to tell him what a breakthrough I’d had. Instead she said ‘she was hopeless, she didn’t even put her whole head under‘. You can imagine how stunned I was. I wasn’t supposed to put my whole head under. I had done exactly what I’d been taught.

This was the very first time I remember knowing that what I was being told about myself wasn’t true.  I now knew how to put my face underwater without panicking and no-one was taking that away from me. While I was too young to understand my mother’s behaviour, I was able to look at her and think ‘that’s not true’.

Over the years I did internalise a lot of things that were said to me and about me, and it’s taken many years to untangle the projections and agendas of others. During this time I’ve struggled with trusting my own abilities because I was taught to doubt them, but one thing I’ve never doubted was my swimming ability.

If you’ve read my earlier entry about scuba diving, you’ll know I’ve had huge difficulties with filling my mask with water to practice clearing it. I think it takes me back to those very early days of panic while my head was held under the shower. But actual swimming is a joy – I’ve never been plagued with the doubts that creep into other activities I’ve tried. I can only assume it’s because I actively rejected the story about being hopeless at it. 

How many stories have you bought into over the years that were actually more to do with the person telling that story than they were about you? Other people tell us things about ourselves that aren’t true for many reasons, one of the most common ones being that they don’t want to face some truth about themselves.

My mother was terrified of water, she almost drowned as a child. I suspect there was a part of her that didn’t want me to overcome my own terror because where would that leave her? But I did. I can draw on that experience when I struggle with other areas where I do have doubts.

I used to be more terrified of public speaking than anything else. Now I do it for a living. My old belief was around not having anything intelligent to say and that I would be ridiculed and humiliated. My new belief is that what I have to say is just as valid as the next person and that most people aren’t interested in humiliating others anyway.

Obviously I didn’t change this overnight by just deciding to, I changed it by being around people who let me see the truth by not imposing their own stories on me.

What beliefs do you need to start questioning? Are they your truth or are they part of someone else’s story?

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  1. Hi Leanne,
    I can relate to internalising negative stories when i was younger, esp. about not being perfect – and even being told i can’t do things when i clearly can! I think this internal belief has held me back a lot – the idea that i need to be perfect in order to do something adequately. Also, I saw this video the other day of a woman who spilt the flour on the floor while she was cooking with her mum when she was younger, and all she could remember was her mum’s look of disgust about it. This incident and several others she remembered reminded her that her mother made her feel imperfect and that you need to do things perfectly in order to do them -otherwise you’re useless. I can so relate to this and think perhaps that’s why i hate practical things around the house and cooking so much (as well as dressing ‘right’, doing things ‘right’, saving right, etc), because my mum was a perfectionist and stickler about them and judged me so harshly. I’ve built these stories in my head also that I have to be perfect at everything and uber-practical to ‘succeed’ in life when i don’t. And i’ve been trying to define myself with other things besides domestic and material things for years, to spite my mother. (Although my mother didn’t criticise me about swimming, she also had the experience of nearly drowning when she was young. But maybe she has a lot of things she doesn’t want to face about herself too. ) Recently I’ve been distancing myself from people in my family that replay old unuseful stories about myself and expect me to have the same energy patterns, and it has helped me to build some new stories about myself and new energy patterns once and for all. Now I’m going to be domestic and material on my own terms that suit me, and in ways that fit in my other interests…. and i’ve been doing some root chakra healings (from youtube) to help me, along with other things. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Clarex

    • Hi Clare, this helps me make even further sense of this, thanks! I also avoid the kitchen because I can’t ‘get it right’ and I see now that it was because perfection was the standard. It’s such a dichotomy, do it perfectly or don’t do it at all. We need to get into the grey area and have some fun exploring instead!

  2. This is a great post! It is amazing how many things are lying just under the surface at times that keep us from realizing our dreams and desires because of old beliefs – our own or imposed on us. Acknowledging them is one thing, but letting go is another! But, there is so much power in realizing your own story and not playing a role in someone elses. Thank you!

    • Hi Shana, thanks for your thoughts – it’s so true that acknowledging our stories is quite different to letting them go!

  3. OMG, Leanne. I love going in the water but I can’t watch tv/movie scenes where characters are underwater for more than about 20 seconds without scuba gear (and even then…). I loved Whale Rider, but that last big scene had me feeling like I was drowning for her! So I can’t believe someone just threw you in a pool at age 5 and expected it would cure you rather than traumatize you!!

    And I am told horrible things about myself every single day in my day job now, and I am still in the process of unraveling the things that friends, family, and classmates told me while I was growing up. It amazes me how much we’re told that’s just not true, and how easily we believe it. I often feel, especially at work, like you did when your mother said you were hopeless–there’s this constant battle between what I hear and what I know is true, and I often feel like I’m fighting just to preserve my sense of myself. I’m so grateful for the work I do outside the day job, because it really does keep me going.

    • Hi Nancy, so sorry to hear about your treatment in your work environment. It says more about them than you of course (it says nothing about you) but it’s hard, especially when you have that history from family and friends as you mentioned. I hope you’re winning that battle. Your work outside of your day job is so important because of this very thing!

  4. I can really relate to this but I have to say that my mom was also the one who got me out of believing that I could do the impossible. I did it too and learned that we are what we believe in and if we don’t have faith and believe in ourselves, life can be really hard. Thanks for this Leanne.

    • Thanks for your comment Alison – glad to hear your mom was supportive in that way, makes a huge difference!

  5. Hi Leanne, thanks for your story. What arises for me was an early comment from my father who told me that if I’d only been a boy we could have had such a great relationship. I was about four.

    Yes it landed hard and affected me, held me back, for a long time, from embracing who and what I am.

    I’m the oldest of three—all women. My father called my youngest sister the third strike. (That’s a baseball reference, three strikes and you’re out.)

    Thanks for this, thanks for persistence and self-knowing and sharing your beautiful self.


    • Hi Sue, so sad that your father felt that way and that he felt the need to express it to you, especially so early when you were so impressionable. It’s really his loss but I can only imagine how much its affected you and held you back from claiming your full power and beauty. I know you’re winning at that now though xx

  6. Hi Leanne,
    What a brave post. Thank you for sharing your story. I think that once we learn to question the beliefs we take as fact, it can shake and break the concrete that holds us stuck. It can be immensely freeing to realise that someone else’s view of us is not the truth. The truth is what we believe of ourselves. I am learning this daily.
    thank you

    • Hi Julie, I love the concrete analogy, that really does describe it so well. It is a daily lesson, to figure out our own truth, but very freeing as you said!

  7. Oh yes! We totally have to remember to filter other peoples stories from their reactions and comments, thank you for reminding me of this. It is soooo relevant right now x

    • Hi Charlotte, yes we need a strong filter in this world – glad it was relevant for you!

  8. Although this is an awful thing for a child to go through, it’s great that you learnt early not to take on other people’s stories about you. This reminded me so much of my swimming lessons – I loved to swim, up until I started having lessons and the teacher shouted and pushed me and pushed me. I found out age 7 I don’t do well with being pushed too far – I started to dread going swimming and I hated the lessons so much. If my dad hadn’t taken me every weekend and allowed me to have fun, I wouldn’t swim now. I only really remembered this lesson a few years ago when someone else was pushing me and it shut me down. Shame I couldn’t go back and tell 7 year old me it was ok! xx

    • Hi Donna – yuck, what a horrible experience. Why is that anyone thinks a child would learn by being pushed and shouted at?? That’s why I don’t cook :)
      I think you CAN tell that 7 year old you it’s ok, I bet she’d love to hear it too! xx

  9. I love that you learned to own your own truth at such a young age. When I was a social worker I loved to see it in my young clients, too. Knowing your own truth makes you full of possibility. Honestly, I loved my family so much and was so invested in preserving the family story that I only began to own my truth in the last several years. Public speaking is an area where I am taking baby steps and I need to grow. I have a whole lot of passion to get out there and a little bit of stage fright and sometimes it leaves me tonguetied. Thanks! Crystal

    • Good on you for pushing through the stage fright Crystal. No-one was more terrified than me but a bit of courage and determination will get you there eventually. Glad to hear your owning your truth xx

  10. This story really resonates with the work I am doing now on releasing those old stories and limiting beliefs! Its so true that we sometimes internalize what others have said and believe they know more about what we can do that we know ourselves! How awesome that even at age 8 you were able to realize that YOU knew more about you and what you could do than your mother did!
    So inspired by your journey and that you are now scuba diving and pubic speaking. Woo Hoo!

    • Thanks so much for the encouragement Sarah :)
      Great to hear you’re doing work in this area too, it’s a bit of an epidemic and we all need to learn how to release these old false beliefs.


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