I have this sign that my aunt gifted me years ago. It reads, “The things we whisper to ourselves over and over again are the ones that eventually come true.” I have seen this borne out in my own life and in my work.

For so many of us, we have a story that we tell ourselves that plays on a continuous loop in our minds. It looks for supporting evidence and dismisses, minimizes or outright ignores anything that would contradict it. This might take the theme of “I’m not enough,” “I’m a bad person/spouse/parent”, “I don’t really matter,” “If I just do x, y, z, I’ll be worthy,” or “I’m broken/damaged/used goods.” The stories we tell ourselves shape our experience, for better or worse.

When we’re caught up in these narratives, they can feel like an absolute truth and take up all the space in our heads and hearts, leading us to react to ourselves, to our environment and to others based on this story. This can look like hustling for our worth, striving, and perfectionism. Or, chasing the next thing that will make us better, stronger, more affluent, liked, respected or regarded. This might show up as pushing away the love and encouragement of others, avoiding vulnerability, lacking boundaries or being involved in relationships where the worse things we think about ourselves are confirmed.

In ACT, we voice these thoughts and begin to ‘name the story.’ Making explicit that which is lurking in the shadows often creates some space for us to consider whether the things we say to ourselves are helpful and useful. We explore with kindness and compassion the role this story has served in our lives while learning skills and strategies to intentionally respond to it in ways that are aligned with our values and what’s most important to us. While we’re unlikely to get rid of these narratives – most of us have tried this before – we CAN change our relationship with them so that they don’t get in the way of the lives we want to live.