170 Comments

Thank you for this -- it's a really great reminder that one never heals from a wound by focusing on the agent that caused it, but on tending the injury itself, i.e. if somebody stabs you, tending to the knife will never stop the bleeding. I've been working on letting go of old stories.

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"tending to the knife will never stop the bleeding" WOW! I've never heard this before and it comes at a very timely moment. Thank you for sharing it.

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Happy it is useful to you. :)

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I believed in a "carrot man" who stood outside my window. The childhood fears of the carrot man and ghosts were recurring nightmares for decades. I've never felt safe. But as an adult in therapy, I realized he was real and that I hid in the bathroom to protect myself because it was the only room without windows and my parents weren't going to protect me. Now that I have cancer and a death-and-dying therapist, who has helped untangle ALL of it, I'm learning to admire the resilience and survival skills I had as a child. The "stories" don't stand up, but I found a way to fight what I didn't understand, and I need that will to live and fight

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Just letting you know I am reading and thank you for sharing ❤️ I am proud of you, internet stranger and fellow Ask Polly follower 😄

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Now I am afraid of the carrot man!

Sending love xxx

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Thank you so so much for sharing this Shana! As I go on my healing journey I also realise there's a beauty to the whole process... because your soul is expanding through what you can deal with!

So happy for you to go on this journey ❤️

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1. When I was a teenager: my dad just expresses his love through supporting the family financially and making money. That's fine and just as good as a dad who's present. (My dad was an ER doctor, which meant he had insane schedules and often missed family vacations, holidays, soccer games, dinner every night, etc. etc. Read on for how that turned out.)

2. No one will ever really understand me. The gulf between me and other people is too big to even try crossing. (As a gay kid with two mentally ill parents, an alcoholic father who took off when I was 15 and who I haven't seen in years, and a mother in crisis left behind, I had to keep, and still keep, a lot of secrets. It's very hard for me to let my guard down or be honest. I frequently get relegated to the "introverted listener role" in friendships with talkative people who are self-absorbed or kind but not able to pick up on many social cues, because I have no idea how to talk about myself or family, and those are the people who don't notice / don't care.)

3. You're just bad at being vulnerable. You have to try being more vulnerable if you want to connect with other people and make better friends. (Looking back, I did try to be vulnerable with friends throughout college, and it backfired-- again, see the type of people attracted to spending time with me in the first place. Realistically, a lot of people do not care enough to hear about your insane family lore, especially when they started being friends with you because you were the only one who would listen to them about their insane family lore. I put the onus on myself to just *muscle through* into emotional intimacy and take up more space, but vulnerability is not an individual practice, it is a social and shared one. My friends who ignored me when I tried to share things about my life were not being good friends. I wasn't asking for too much, or not trying hard enough.)

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Jane, thank you for the hard-won truths you shared. Especially, “vulnerability is not an individual practice, it is a social and shared one.” This one informs and teaches me that my impaired picker leads me to those who confirm my story that trust and vulnerability are way overrated. This, I can use. You’ve helped me. My gratitude. Damn, Phyl, work to let go of rigging the data to prove I’m right.

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Wow, thank you for sharing this! It had not even occurred to me that "You're just bad at being vulnerable." was not an actual fact, but a story I was telling myself until I read it in your words. Followed by "Vulnerability is not an individual practice." whoa.

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on your #2 point, I feel exactly the same but handle it the opposite way. I talk a mile a minute (babbling really) to, I guess, keep the attention on what I'm talking about instead of on me? If that makes any sense. I'm not sure as I've never really realized it until I read your comment.

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I don't need to be loved.

I'm strong.

Mind over matter.

I managed to survive a parent with a personality disorder, so the stories did their job. But the body keeps the score.

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The body keeps the score, indeed. Just wanted you to know I feel your comment deeply as well.

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1) There's something gross and off putting about me

2) I want to be special which is shameful and embarrassing

3) I'm disposable and forgettable

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Here's an attempt to reframe

1) There's something gross and off putting about me -> I often worry about how other's see and react to my physical form but I definitely know I resist and struggle to love my physical form and that will always be limiting

2) I want to be special which is shameful and embarrassing -> I want to be recognized by others as valuable and have opportunities to create and connect with others creatively without feeling like im wasting my time

3) I'm disposable and forgettable -> I assume I'm disposable and forgettable making it harder to risk building new relationships or strengthening new ones

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Absolutely number 2.

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I must fit in to be loved --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe I must be my true self to be loved, and hated and anything in between, I am in full acceptance of my true self, and that is higher than anyone's approval

I must strive to be perfect --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe I must strive for things that rtuly matter to me

I must only hang out with people who are perfect --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe I must be where I am and when I cross paths with others, it is my opportunity to be my true self and allow them to be their true selves, to accept everyone who I meet as someone who is reflecting something about myself

I must make a world away from everything I know --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe I must make a world in the reality of what is

It's not okay to be me (my true self) --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe I cannot be anyone else except my true self, and I accept all the consequences of being my true self (it's worth standing up for)

It's not okay to pursue things other's deem frivolous - such as creativity --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe I must pursue things that call out my name, such as Creativity

It's not okay to be different --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe it's okay to be me

I struggle because I am not good --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe I struggle because it's a part of life sometimes, it's alright, and it's important to remember it's not all struggle

Success is when everyone's happy with you --> --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe success is when I am happy with myself, in integrity with myself

I must do as others do - I must learn from my elders --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe that the answers are not outside of me

It's rude to voice my opinions and concerns--> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe my voice belongs here and it's a gift to use it for the highest good

It's disrespectful to ask questions or challenge the status quo in any way --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe it's neccessary to ask questions or challenge the status quo if it will be helpful in anyway

Know your place (it's the one that others have given you) --> --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe it's okay not to know my place, and have the freedom to find it (it's always the one that brings be most peace)

Smile to make everyone else comfortable --> INSTEAD I am choosing to believe it's my face, and I can choose whatever expression I feel like adorning at any moment.

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Love that you gave your rewritten narratives to show us how, thank you. Really beautiful.

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outstanding. thank you so very much.

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When I was a kid, I was anxious and tended to overthink. When I would out-perform my brothers on tests, it became a family joke to say "If she weren't so neurotic, everyone would have to hate her." I swear, it felt like a joke, until it didn't. I realized at some point in my 20's that I was finding it really hard to break out of anxious thought patterns because some part of me wholly believed that neuroticism was the tax I needed to pay for finding both success *and* love as a woman. Not a useful story—didn't serve me well as a kid, definitely has hampered my relationships as an adult. I married someone who doesn't need or want me to pay the anxiety tax in order to be loved, but damn does it feel almost impossible to stop doing it.

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What an awful thing to learn from your family. Sending you love.

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This. It's horrible the things that adults repeatedly tell children as "jokes."

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My husband was told he was unplanned and unwanted. His development meant he was shunned and shunted around. Awful that his parents couldn't make time for him

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Same ❤️ Beth, I hope you find safety in that with time.

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The first two stories are ones people told about me:

You’re the smart one - and you think you’re smarter than everyone else.

You’re a “brick” - you’re capable and impermeable to hurt. You can take care of yourself and don’t worry about others’ feelings.

The story I told myself as a result:

No one knows me, no one can know me, no one cares to know me.

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The "you're the smart one" pairing resonates really deeply with me. I didn't realize until I read yours that that is very much a story I've been told as well, and I have always felt some shame about how I either do or don't (depending on the situation) live up to that story. Thanks for sharing, and know you're not alone in that one!

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Very similar stories on my end.

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As an explorer of authentic relating, presence, connection, and self discovery, I love this invitation! It’s very timely as I’m exploring this in my journaling practice as well.

Stories:

1. Everyone else gets love, connection, and touch, and whatever they want. Everyone else gets their needs and wants met. I don’t get that.

2. I don’t exist. Not really.

3. I don’t matter. If I hurt, or bleed, if I feel pain, it’s not important, and nobody will help me or be with me in it, and nobody wants to. I’m expandable.

4. I have to choose between being true to myself and connecting with others.

I think all of these have surfaced in adulthood, and I can tell as I write them, which still feel painful in me.

Those stories both draw me closer to others and keep me distant. As a result of being aware of them, and wanting to heal them, I’ve gone towards different approaches like authentic relating, presence practices, somatic therapy practices, bodywork, and energetics, and trained in a number of different modalities and incorporated a lot in my own practice, whilst also working as a coach and facilitator with others. I think it’s a case of the wound being the place that light can enter us.

It’s also been a case of: I think there’s something wrong with me, that I’m constantly striving to fix. And I’ve just recently, in the last few years, relaxed more into the idea that I’m actually okay, just as I am, and that whilst I have these stories, it’s because I experienced some serious trauma and neglect as a child, and didn’t have a choice or agency in the matter, and to let myself grieve this. Realizing that I already am (and always was) whole and complete in and of myself.

On the rougher days, I’m fleeing for my blanket fort, and my favorite TV show. 😂 Otherwise, I’m alive in the world, and appreciating the magic of life, and that’s amazing. (And sometimes it still feels like striving, and I just get to notice and be present with that.)

>> Do your stories bring you comfort when you feel rejected?

Yes! They have in the past and on occasion, still do. It’s a constant waking up to how this works in me, and being with myself in this with compassion and understanding.

>> Do they make you feel more capable and more resilient?

Yep. ‘If I don’t matter, and it doesn’t matter if I feel pain temporarily, I can do a lot and face a lot that other people might not be able to.’ That was my thinking and approach for a number of years. It took me years to see how I was really relating to myself through this, and how through this belief, I was hurting myself. However, I also was more resilient and capable, so both were true!

I stayed with the tension between the opposites, and I think the biggest breakthrough around this came recently when I admitted to myself that I should never have needed to be that capable. I shouldn’t ever have needed to be the one handling situations I handled, and that my parents were supposed to protect me and didn’t, so I became my own protector to survive. And I became the one who’d stand up for others as well.

In honoring this, I realized I actually love that part of me. She’s incredibly strong and resilient, and deeply cares about me and about others. It’s become about honoring all of the parts of myself, and inviting all of me to the table.

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"and touch" oh man, thank you ~ I didn't even realize that I felt that way too.

Highly relate to your stories as well as the thought of 'something is wrong with me" and the ceaseless fixing.

I think we all need more blanket forts to retreat to!

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More blanket forts!

You’re so welcome. I didn’t realize I felt that way until recently either. Touch was (and still is) an ongoing exploration for me, and where I know I can have a lot of blindspots.

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Yesss! I had just been down to see my friend recently whose kid had built one so I had a very strong image of a blanket fort!. Yes I feel you on the blindspots - I think for me it's been a more recent noticing that what I got used to receiving from others was way different than what I actually enjoy ❤️

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Oh Sandi that is me too! Thank you for sharing! It would be so nice to just not have to be resilient once in a while...

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Feeling this one today too, Karina. Wishing you a little more peace and support in your life too.

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My three old stories are:

1. I am alone

2. It’s up to my

3. All of me is too much, dangerous even

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"I'm cursed. Things don't work out for me."

Sometimes I wonder if this is just a way to feel special?

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This is mine. Struggling with infertility and just having my 3rd miscarriage has not helped. :/

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I did think I was cursed at some point. Then I found out it was because I was three types of neurodivergent. Oppression really is a thing.

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I have birth defects, no one will love me.

I’m not worth the effort.

Don’t take up room, get by with less.

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Aww that one was painful. Poor baby

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Whew, what an amazing prompt.

I guess mine are:

- Nobody understands me / I am incomprehensible;

- I am not like normal people / I do not get to have normal things; therefore

- I have to do everything myself, and my way.

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To answer the other questions:

All of these stories, I'd say, kept reappearing. I felt like I didn't know how, hadn't been properly equipped, to do work "normal" people did, to have "normal" relationships, to fall in love with or relate to "appropriate" people. As you might imagine, these stories didn't do a great job of bringing me closer to people; they largely kept me alienated and believing that I had to either settle for whatever I got, however dysfunctional, or that I had to break out and reinvent the wheel if I was ever going to be happy. Mostly, the result was stuckness.

I don't think that my stories really brought me comfort, particularly not when rejected; they maybe had a slightly better success rate than my mother's pat response when I was tortured in school ("They're just jealous"). It was better to imagine that I was just so different that people would never understand. In grade school this translated into debilitating shyness; in high school and parts of college I developed a hard bitchy shell over my soft candy center; the rest of my life (I'm in my 40s) has been working on the balance between hard and soft, between "too sensitive" and "ice queen."

Largely I've found that vulnerability is the key to continued growth.

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"I'm not normal and do not get to have normal things" / fall in love with "appropriate" people — feeling this one! Thanks for putting it in words :)

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Same, thanks so much for sharing. Relate so much to the bitchy exterior. I was also so shy as a child - unable to speak to strangers at all, would freeze up and hide or run away.

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Those three ALL ring true to me too. Thank you!

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I don't exist properly.

I am only meant to understand, not be understood.

I feel most whole when I am alone.

I am the best thing that has happened and will ever happen to me.

1. I continue to have experiences that reliably support the above beliefs. I have a hard time building trusting relationships with people. I am very cautious and watchful of people and tread (noticeably) slowly. This way has helped me decide for each moment and situation when I should stick around a bit more or jump ship.

2. These beliefs keep me isolated from people AND help me maintain an unperturbed sense of self that I haven't had before. I feel more attuned to myself than ever before. I trust myself to handle situations with more integrity and authenticity because I can peacefully choose who I want to be in each moment. Honestly, distance helps me stay inside myself and feel all my emotions and learn more deeply about different parts of me. I'll sometimes share my logic/thoughts with people but I still refuse to share my feelings with people.

3. I wouldn't say I feel comforted by these beliefs. They just exist. They just continue to confirm themselves even without me projecting them. They will always remain somewhat concretized as long as I have to participate in a White Patriarchal Individualist Capitalist society.

Human Connection is so momentary and fleeting that I am starting to not believe it is NOT worth all the hype everyone gives it. It is so hard to be human with other humans.

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I feel most whole when I’m alone too

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Can you explain what you mean by "1. I don't exist properly"? I'd like to understand a little bit more! :-)

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Thanks for asking! I am a woman, mixed-race and look brown, "too" young, too short-statured. I have dark curly hair. I am unmarried. I don't want kids. I am either too loud, opinionated, annoying OR too cold and reclusive. I never fit the expectations people have for me nor do I ever match the version of me people create in their heads. I have consistently been a scapegoat in group settings -family, workplace, friend group, CoDA

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I resonate with this. Mixed-race Black visibly brown femme; academic; writer/creative. Often scapegoated. I'm struggling with the experience that nearly every relationship I've invested in (I'm the only POC in almost every work and social situation) has exploded when I have valid reactions to injustices directed at people of the global majority. Lost some "friends" post-George Floyd. Lost the rest over Palestine. I don't know what story to tell. I can't believe that my "friends" really are this racist, that the world is telling stories to justify so much brutality. I've been telling myself that these friends are just uninformed or not worldly and that seems to be what gets me hit upside the head with a hard truth. I've spent my life struggling with stories of "I expect too much of people," of "I'm too sensitive" or "too political."

Now I try to tell myself to stay true to myself, continue to voice my feelings, but to no longer "teach" anyone who treats me like a "fascinating, intriguing voice" who "opens their eyes" to things – or rather, I need to no longer consider that dynamic a friendship dynamic. If you want to hear my experience as a racialized person because you're humbly educating yourself, ok, pay me. You're not some enlightened lady with a Black friend because you indulge my little sadz. If you want to share your experience and want to hear mine so that we have a space to relate and care for each other, that's friendship.

FWIW, I don't consider this "not existing properly." I think it IS existing bravely, and giving the finger to a messed-up idea of proper. The white-hetero-patriarchal-military-industrial-complex exists by rewarding the amnesia and willful ignorance of the protected privileged, and the shunning/"too-loud"ing of the global majority (including white working wage-poor who do things like try to unionize or fight the rich). They invented what is "property" and what is "proper" and when you don't parrot that story and build your identity around their ownership-driven idea of success, they will absolutely tell stories that tell you you're "not right."

I deeply identify with your strategies of relying and trusting only yourself. My recent story involves believing that the truer I am to me, the more I will see those who are on the same wavelength.

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Ah, so "existing properly" according to other people's standards. That's really hard, I'm sorry people have treated you so unkindly and without loving curiosity. :-(

Just out of my own curiosity, have you ever researched neurodiversity? Some of the things you describe resonate with the experiences of autistic/ADHD people (especially autistic women of color who don't fit into people's expectations). I personally discovered a lot of encouragement and new "stories" when I learned more about my own masked autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities. There are soooo many ways of being a person in this world, and when I read about or talk to people who are the same weird flavor as me, I feel a lot more peaceful.

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Ah, I'm glad you have discovered your own neurodivergence and have found others you can connect to!

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My child hood story is a rather dramatic story I suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage on the left side of my brain at the age of 15 and still have residual paralysis on my right side. I have talked about this very unusual accident to any one who wants to hear about it. Nothing, I repeat nothing can prevent you from becoming what you want in this life…only yourself. I have attained a PhD, two beautiful daughters and am active in sports at the age of soon to be 70. I was told back when I had my accident that I would never walk again and that I would have to settle on some menial job. My comeback was tough but I had the support of good mother and father . So long as you have your health….you can do anything. Thank you for letting me go over my childhood memory .

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It sounds like your parents saw you clearly and loved you unconditionally, then gave you tools to cope in a crazy world.

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Apr 24·edited Apr 24

Than you for your kind words. I am a retired professor who continues to teach part-time at the university because as far as I am concerned in order to live a beautiful life one has to connect mind , body and spirit in what ever order they see fit. After you have something traumatic happen in your childhood, I believe that you know your purpose in this life.

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I didn't realize these were stories until very recently! 1) I am unknowable. Love ≠ curiosity about other people. 2) Feelings are overwhelming and better left in a box very far away where I (and everyone else!) can pretend they are not there. 3) Bodies are awkward, embarrassing and can be mostly ignored unless you are "too" something like fat or noticeable or loud. 4) Good people work to impress others. 

My stories are stories of distance and self-reliance and walls that are so thick that for many many years, I couldn't see myself through them either. 

These stories were helpful because I needed to be capable and resilient in order to feel good about myself in my childhood family. They drove me to be a thinker, and to work hard in school, and to push myself to be noticed for doing a "good job" because that was rewarded. They are soothing in that I trust my ability to read other people, see what they need me to be, and be that. The skills and stories have made me a very helpful person, and that is not all bad. Now that I am able to notice (mostly) when I am looking to others to feel important, and am building the muscle of mattering to myself, I can see my competence, work-ethic, care, high-standards as characteristics that really can work for ME and not my attempts to be seen. But I have had to see these stories in a very different way to feel at peace with them. 

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"Good people work to impress others" wow that hit me in my CHEST

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