Once upon a time, so this story goes, there was a little girl who was born with the unfortunate burden of being a princess.
Life was difficult for this girl. She was kept in a castle, tucked away from a normal life, and unable to experience the kind of life she truly desired. She developed extreme anxiety as a result, and seldom left the confines of the palace.
On top of this difficult lot, her mother had died in childbirth and her father, the king, had married a manipulative, evil, gold digger of a woman. Despite the clearly evident fact that his wife was an abusive narcissist, the king chose his career and station in life over his daughter and allowed his wife to stay with and abuse the sweet girl for years.
In a fit of jealous rage, and while the king was (once again) absent, the queen decided to have the girl murdered. She sent one of her loyal subjects, who harbored a strong need for approval, into the woods with an order to kill her. Being co-dependent and eager to please, he agreed.
Fortunately, at the last minute, the man couldn’t do it. He put away his knife and told the girl to flee into the forest, and lied to the queen about the girl’s fate.
The girl sought refuge in the first place she found, which was a house full of men. They told her she could stay, so long as she provided them with free labor, cooking and cleaning and otherwise taking care of them.
Eager for male approval because of her own feelings of rejection from her father, she agreed and spent her days trying to make them happy.
This went on for some time, until eventually the queen found out the girl was still alive. She decided to kill the girl herself, and very nearly succeeded.
Thankfully, another man came along—this time a very rich and handsome one—saving the day and enabling everyone to live happily ever after.
Except, as we all know, this isn’t how the story of Snow White is told at all. Yet it very well could be.
In the version most of us grew up with, Snow White is a virtuous, beautiful girl, and everything that happens to her, from her suffering, to her friendship with the seven dwarfs, to her worthiness of the handsome prince’s kiss, are part of a bigger lesson that good always trumps evil.
We could just as easily repeat the story in which everyone is flawed and we are cynical of motives if we wanted to. Snow White could have immersed herself in self-blame and pity, telling herself the story that she was, and always would be, a victim. Instead, in the story we all know, she was happy and loving and kind, and she manifested more of the same by never questioning her worthiness.
We can do the same in our own lives.
Every one of us goes through difficult times. Few of us escape our 20s with perfection, and if we do, our 30s and 40s are full of humbling lessons.
We all make mistakes. Our children aren’t perfect. People disappoint us, and we disappoint ourselves. We all have scars, some of them incredibly deep. If we are fortunate, those moments or events in life knock us to our knees and make us grow.
Regardless of what we go through, at some point in life, we have to decide what story we’re going to tell ourselves about who we are and what we’re all about.
Life is always about choices. Always.
Even when we didn’t have a choice to be where we are, we have a choice to decide what we’re going to do about it. That choice begins with a decision about what stories we tell ourselves.
We have three choices:
1. We decide to tell ourselves the story that we are victims, subject to the misdeeds and dysfunction of others. Are we living our lives at the whim of others? Is our future beyond our control? Of the three choices, this one may feel the most comfortable because very little change is needed. It is easy to stay stuck in roles, stuck in unhealthy relationships, or stuck in anything else that feels empty and unfulfilling when the alternative is full of question marks. When we have to choose between a predictable outcome and one that we are unsure of, change can feel paralyzing.
Often it is not failure we’re afraid of; it’s our own power. Taking the power away from those who have hurt us, or to alter our story to take responsibility for what is ours to own is frightening because it means that we are in charge of our own lives. That can feel daunting, or even terrifying.
2. We decide to ignore our past pain in our stories. This is the choice to “Suck it up, Buttercup.” In many families, and often culturally, being stoic is admired and encouraged. We have the right to bury our past experiences, especially if they are particularly painful or shameful. It’s your story, and you can tell it how you’d like. However, if you make the choice to heavily edit your story, you may find that the same lessons keep popping up time and again. If you don’t deal with the issues, they will deal with you in ways you may not expect.
3. We recognize that our stories, flaws and all, are powerful, and that every part of them is relevant to who we are becoming. We can choose to embrace our entire story and become emboldened and intentional about what we do with it. We can choose to see the lessons, and to be mindful about how we handle those gifts. We may not be able to change what was said or done to us by others, or what choices we made that caused suffering, but can accept personal responsibility for what we do with our story from here on out. We have the option to tell our story in such a way that everything that has happened has enlightened us, humbled us, given us empathy to connect with others, and allowed us to better plug in to our purpose.
Bad things may happen to us (and sometimes those bad things are really, really bad). We also all make horrible choices. Until we decide those people and events no longer have power over us, we will continue to be puppets in someone else’s story.
If you are stuck in victim mode, it’s okay, or if you need to hide pages of your story indefinitely, that’s okay, too. Your journey is yours to decide, and there are no wrong answers.
But if you choose to embrace your story and tell it to yourself and others in first person, making you the star of your own life, you can do that, too.
Even in our darkest days, life is not happening to us, it is happening for us. We hold the pen and we own the paper. What we choose to do with it is also ours, for us, by us.
What story do you choose?
Author: Amanda Christmann
Editor: Catherine Monkman