The stories in our minds may or may not be real, but they are influential regardless of the truth behind them. Often, when we can’t explain someone else’s behavior, we tell ourselves a story about what did or didn’t happen.
This is the fourth essay in a series on this adoptee voice. You’ll find the first essay here.
Whether that someone else is the friend who said something hurtful, the editor who didn’t respond to our pitch, and even the birth parents who didn’t raise us, our self-talk in response can influence our feelings, mood, and future actions.
Stories change us.
When we tell ourselves the editor didn’t respond because our writing is lousy, our future actions are likely to include less pitching and less writing. We make up a story based on zero facts and change our behavior as a result. And in so doing, we change the trajectory of our writing career, but what if we had told ourselves a different story.
What if we decided the lack of response had nothing to do with us. After all, if the editor didn’t respond, there could be a lot of reasons. Editors are busy and may not have seen the message, they could be on vacation, or our pitch may not have fit their current needs.
Or yes, our writing may be lousy, but the point here is that we don’t know why the editor didn’t respond; only they know.
It’s not about us.
(if you click on the link below, I may earn a small commission at no cost to you)
One of my favorite books is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The book came out in 1997, I’ve had my copy since 2003, and it’s still a best-seller today. And even after owning this book for 18 years, I continue to find myself challenged with two of his four agreements when it comes to my writing or being adopted.
Don’t take anything personally, and don’t make assumptions.
It’s hard not to take something personally when it feels personal, particularly when you’re adopted. After all, how much more personal can it get than who does and doesn’t parent you. Yet even then, it isn’t personal; it isn’t about us.
We didn’t do anything.
We are adoptees because someone else made a decision. And we will never understand that decision until and unless we find the courage to seek out, find, and ask questions of the only people who can answer them.
For as long as I can remember before I ever heard their names, I’ve believed my birth mother placed me for adoption out of love while also telling myself that my birth father didn’t want me. This narrative is something I created, a story of my mind.
Of course, it’s perfectly normal to make up stories when no one gives you any information. But what about the stories we make up when we only have partial data? They both have the strong potential to do damage. The longer we tell ourselves negative narratives, the more ingrained these accounts become in our brains’ neural pathways.
Worry breeds worry. Anxiety begets anxiety, and stress causes more stress, just as positivity creates optimism. These repetitive thoughts, behaviors, and stories become part of us over time.
Fact or fiction.
It doesn’t matter if our stories, worry, anxiety or stress come from fact or fiction. The consequence is the same, and so is the solution. Hindsight is fantastic when it helps you see where you could have done differently or better, but it still won’t change the impact of the stories we tell ourselves.
Only we can do that, and it requires conscious effort.
Stop making negative stuff up and assuming you know why people do the things they do. There isn’t one of us who can thoughtfully express our reasons for doing everything we’ve ever done, particularly the actions that evoke feelings of shame or guilt.
My birth mother has done her best to share the reasons I was placed for adoption, and they are many, including loving me. It’s never just one thing. Not ever. And while I haven’t spoken with my birth father yet, it’s long past time I stop making up stories about his motivations.
Change the stories.
The neural pathways in our brains have formed over time, and they won’t change overnight. But they will change when we decide to focus our efforts on changing the stories we tell ourselves.
Since my birth 54 years ago, our world has dramatically changed, and judging people for decisions made in another era is futile. It wouldn’t alter anything while casting judgment would interfere with getting to know my birth family.
Turns out, the reasons for the decisions, while still important for me to understand, don’t matter as much as I thought they would. What matters is deepening the relationships with my birth family. The more I learn about my birth parents, and all that encompasses, the more I know about myself.
And when we know ourselves, we can change the negative stories forever.