How to Share Your Life Story
Everyone has his or her own unique story. Sharing your story is the only way that others can know the real you. That can be a scary thought. You dread what others might think about you when they hear it. You wonder if those with whom you share may judge you, laugh at you, or, worst of all, reject you.
Telling your story reveals the real you (or what I call your Core identity). This refers to whom your Creator intended you to be. As His creation, you are someone whom He loves and with whom He desires an ongoing relationship. He made you in His image as having a known sense of being and with the ability to think, act, feel, create, and relate to Himself and others.
So why would you be afraid of criticism, humiliation, or rejection in the telling of your story? When you were born to your parents, you entered a world where people wanted to make sure that you would be a good person in their eyes and everyone who knew them. Your Core identity may or may not have been recognized by them. Their goal was to make you fit in and to know the right way to be when you were with others. Their job was about what you did and not about who you were.
No parent was provided a child-rearing manual, so they set about teaching you what they thought was important and used what they thought might be the best way for you to learn. Your parents were either honorable or horrible but no matter which type they were, you were left with identity confusion. Even when you did your best to give them what they wanted, your parents may not have seen your attempts as suitable.
The reason you fear embarrassment, shame, or alienation when telling your story is that authority figures judged you wrongly. Those critics never saw or accepted the real you. But their presence in your life was so strong that to survive you adopted the identity they gave you. That “persona” was the identity mask you wore to appear acceptable to others. Your persona knew what to do to please them and in doing what was wanted, you learned how to win approval.
Stepping into the persona, wearing that mask became the way to hide your Core identity from criticism. In your true person, you had much more to offer. But that meant using words or actions that were not allowed because they did not conform to what was expected. You learned to put on the mask and hide your Core identity for approval, acceptance, and survival. But, the reasons you wore the mask to protect your Core identity from criticism, embarrassment, or rejection only tell part of your story. From behind the mask where your Core identity existed, you were seeking ways to be who you were intended to be.
Being the “You” Who You Really Are;
Rather Than Acting the “You” Others Expect to See
The first step in preparing to tell your story is to separate what is the substance of your Core being from how you were defined by others. To do that you need to know about two different voices that you hear in your head and how to tell them apart.
One thing that might be helpful is to define the difference between shame and guilt. Shame is the voice of critics that provokes the emotion we feel when we don’t measure up or please others. The emotion of shame is what a two year old feels when an authority figure is unhappy with him or her.
The criticisms of authority figures in your life were learned verbatim, as if you hear the critic’s voice playing on a mental tape recorder in your mind the exact condemnations. Even many years can pass by and when an present-day experience parallels a past event for which you were judged, the voice is heard and felt as if you are this “bad child” again.
The favorite words of the child at two becoming his or her own person are “me…, mine…, no!” The parent who does not recognize the child’s natural development of autonomy, a sense of self, and learning to exert control of self and environment, shames the child. The term the “terrible two’s” is a description of a time in the child’s growth that all parents encounter. The child is not intentionally being “bad.”
However, some parents see the child as disobedient and determine to make the child comply. Criticism, punishment, and shaming say to the child that he or she is unacceptable as a person. That is the earliest age a persona mask is developed to hide the Core identity.
That first voice of shame is the collection of tapes holding what all the authority figures, the critics who influenced your socialization, told you. The external voices that shamed you to act as they wished to see, eventually became held in your mind and you may assume that it is from your Core identity. That is never the case.
Guilt is the voice of your Core identity feeling the emotion that comes from within you when you recognize your actions as wrong. Guilt comes from the Core values that we embrace. Very little guilt comes as the result of others shaming us. Our real self has things that we believe about right and wrong and hold them within our heart. When you recognize your wrong actions, take mindful ownership, and confess you have acted wrongly, the voice of guilt quiets. You can once again be at peace.
By learning to use the correct emotional label and recognizing which voice is the source of your feelings, you can understand what is your actual story from what others imposed on you.
An Example from My Story
When I was in college, I experienced a deep, suicidal depression that lasted for four years. My Core identity was sure that God’s purpose in my life was to become a psychologist to help people with their emotional and spiritual struggles. This sense of purpose in my life was one unencumbered with doubt. I felt no guilt in going to Greenville College to earn a B.A. degree in Psychology. However, nine months prior, I had shared my life vision with my father who was a pastor. His response was, “No Christian goes into that ungodly field.” That planted the seeds of shame.
I was at Moody Bible Institute then. I approached two family friends, R.J. Little, Radio Pastor of MBN and Dan Smith, then a faculty member of Emmaus Bible School. Both men told me basically the same thing, “Lowell, I love your father, but he is wrong. If God is leading you in that direction, you need to follow God.” The desire to please my father was very strong. He was an influence throughout my childhood to teach me to be obedient, know right from wrong, and to love and honor my Heavenly Father. You would think the support of those two spiritual leaders whom I regarded highly would help resolve the conflict. The effect was quite the opposite. The resolution did not come for four years.
My father had created for me a “no win” situation. It was resolved in my spirit and Core identity shortly after I entered my doctoral education in School Psychology at the University of Iowa. But I wasn’t able to voice this to my father until my thirties.
When I finally found the words I told my father, “Dad, I grew up learning from you what was right and wrong. I learned to obey you as my earthly father. You also taught me the importance of a relationship with my Heavenly Father and to obey and honor Him. When I told you about going into Psychology, your response told me that I was wrong to pursue an education in that ‘ungodly field.’ I was between you, my earthly father who disapproved, and my Heavenly Father who gave me the desire to help people and led me to be equipped through an education in Psychology.”
My father shared then that he feared a secular education would lead me to reject my faith in Christ. By that point in time, he had seen my faithfulness to God through my on-going counseling ministry and the family-life ministry that I conducted in many churches through the Mid-West to encourage Christians to grow in their personal, familial, and marital relationships.
My story illustrates that in my Core identity I felt no guilt in pursuing my education, but felt powerful shame that by the choices I was making I would lose my father’s approval. Suicidal thoughts came from the “no win.” My earthly father would reject me if I followed God. My Heavenly Father would not be pleased with me if I followed my earthly father. Furthermore, to obey my earthly father left me without direction for my life. Other voices piggy-backed on that shame message. Another example was my high school guidance counselor who said because of my hearing impairment, I was only suited for a blue-collar job. I was told I did not have the intelligence needed for a higher education. At 35 years of age, I walked across the stage to receive my Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, eight years after I had established my ministry in counseling.
An Action Step for You
Mindfully and honestly, look at the things that keep you from sharing your story with others. If shame and fear keeps you stuck, recognize that the people of the past who shamed you did not really know you. They wanted to control your behavior for their own purpose at the expense of you having the freedom to live as your Creator intended. As you recognize the shame messages, stand with the dignity and integrity of your Core identity. Telling others about the shaming will expose the lies of the past and free you. Identify one person with whom you can take the risk to share the shame and learn to trust.
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