If a story interests us enough we’re hooked.
I’m guessing we can all remember that lovely feeling we had as a child whenever we found ourselves transported to another world – the world of story.
And as adults it’s the same thing. If we love to read it’s a wonderful thing to get lost in our imagination and forget the world around us for a while. And movies too take us on a journey into another reality, another life, another point of view.
But stories are so much more than that too. They hold immense power. They can change reality and they can win wars. Juries base their decisions on them, corporations increase their profit through them and we live our lives by them.
Because not all stories are presented as fiction.
It’s the most natural thing in the world to talk about the events of our lives in the form of stories and anecdotes. In his book The Story Telling Animal, Jonathon Gottschall describes our thirst for stories as a fundamental human instinct.
We quickly become engrossed in any story that captures our imagination and we readily take on board the messages contained within it.
Even when we know a story is fictional, if we become emotionally involved our unconscious mind will absorb the story as if it were real.
And if a story’s presented as fact, especially by an authority we trust, we’re quite likely to accept the whole thing as gospel truth.
But here’s the thing – any story can only ever be a limited version of events. There’s always a vast amount of information left out of any story. This may or may not be deliberate but it’s true nonetheless and it’s why stories can be misleading and at times dangerous.
It’s how marketing and propaganda work. A powerful story can swing public opinion in an instant.
And we’re heavily influenced by stories on a personal level too. From early childhood we’ll have been hearing family stories and anecdotes and by the time we become adults we’ll have heard thousands in one form and another. Many of these will have been been about us personally and they’ll all have influenced the way we think about ourselves and the world we live in.
Of course this can be a good thing if what we’ve heard about ourself is mainly positive but if the stories we’ve been led to believe are derogatory, then the self image generated will be negative.
For example, imagine if as a child, family members always referred to you as forgetful or clumsy or shy. Any event or behaviour that reinforces that opinion is likely to be taken as further evidence that that’s the way you are. As time goes by further family anecdotes develop, all of which add weight to the original hypothesis about you.
If this happens often enough, your unconscious mind begins to absorb these stories as factual and you take on the attributes as part of your identity, rather than it just being a passing phase (which the behaviour probably was originally).
Because you’ve begun to believe the stories about yourself, you also begin to behave accordingly. This is what’s often called a limiting belief because it limits the choices you have about the things you can do and the ways you can react.
In turn this strengthens the opinions others hold about you aswell.
We have a tendency only to notice those things that reinforce the beliefs we already hold, so anything that conflicts with a strongly held belief will usually be disregarded by the unconscious mind. As time goes by our sense of who we are and our place in the world becomes even more rigid and our behaviours and reactions become more automatic and habitual.
You’ll have also been influenced by all the books you’ve read and movies you’ve watched throughout your life. Looking back you might even find a connection between the types of movies and books you’ve been attracted to. This is probably because there’s some quality to one of the characters that you unconsciously recognise as being similar to yourself.
When your unconscious mind identifies with a character, you begin to empathise and experience the story with them, and so you feel their emotions with them too. The thing is, when strong emotions are involved, the unconscious mind is not very good at distinguishing what’s real from what’s imagined. So, on an unconscious level it’s as if you are that character and the story then becomes your own, adding yet another layer to the things you believe about yourself and your life.
If you’d like to read more about this, please see my blog entitled the protagonist
As time passes your unconscious mind continuously seeks further evidence to confirm the self image it’s already created. Eventually it all becomes so much a part of who you think you are, that it can feel as if you’re living life according to a pre-determined script.
This is when people will often say things like, ‘It’s just the way things are‘ or ‘I’m stuck in a rut’.
Obviously this will have a limiting effect on the conscious choices available to you and it will probably mean you keep getting results you don’t really want.
Luckily it doesn’t have to be that way …
… because Cognitive Hypnotherapy can help you to uncover those life scripts that have been influencing your life in unhelpful ways and transform them into something more positive, giving you back control and allowing you to create your own happy ending.
Gottshall, J., The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make us Human. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. New York. 2012.
White, M., & Epston, D., Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends. WW Norton & Company, Inc. New York. 1990.