Simple but not easy: Changing old internal narratives and negative identity claims

You are so weak, hopeless, you cannot go it alone. You think you’ve changed, you are pathetic. Too much, always too much, you are always so needy. Go it alone, run scared, no bones, no stamina. Voices screaming inside my head, run!

Old, outdated internal narratives holding on, it’s just these old internal narratives holding on, fighting hard.

You are a fraud, you are foolish and have been fooled. You can’t be helped. No one can help you.

Old internal narratives holding on, it’s just these old internal narratives holding on.

Feeling flat, feeling down, feeling dark, feeling empty.

Old internal narratives holding on, it’s just these old internal narratives holding on

On encountering the inevitable retrenchment that happens in any behavioural change, including childhood story work, we are likely to reach a moment where we ask, How on earth can I work with this? How on earth can I get myself through it? In some ways, the answers are simple. You simply need to drag yourself out of the old internal narratives that are pulling you back. You simply need to know that you need help, real help to conquer and navigate the ravages of the old internal narratives that are clinging on and keeping the impact of your childhood stories alive. You simply have to step into the new internal narratives.

Simple right? If it’s possible to walk into old internal narratives again during times of retrenchment, then surely, it’s possible to walk out of them and into new ones too. The solution is so, so simple; stop reinforcing the old internal narratives, write the new ones and step into them! Phenomenologically, it may be simple…. but of course, the work itself is not easy.

What are we up against? It’s the grip of the old internal narratives, which are so strong, so powerful such that there’s absolutely no space for the thought that it is possible to simply choose a new internal narrative over an old one.

You have to believe that in the phenomenology of experience you have some control and that you actually can walk into the new internal narratives. You also have to believe that you can walk inside those new internal narratives such that if the old internal narratives have you by the ankles or by the neck or they’re holding onto you in any way, you know you can step out of them and actually step into the new ones.

It really is possible to create a new reality and walk into it if you choose. The new reality is made up of a set of new internal narratives that you can create. To do this takes practice, hard work, courage, discipline and rigour. It’s tender, tough and transformational work on the Self.

Initially, the new internal narratives, the fledgling new ones, may only appear fleetingly. Equally, the possibility of stepping into them may only open fleetingly. They are like transient moments into which the old internal narratives frustratingly, come crashing back in, quickly taking hold once again and seemingly get stronger and stronger.

We may also be up against something that David Kantor identified as ‘negative identity’. How he described this to me, is that sometimes our experience during our most formative years or what we take from that experience, is so negative that our identity is actually intermingled with a negative claim about the Self rather than a positive one. A negative identity claim can be heard in the poem at the beginning of this blog. Some appear through my own voice and some through the voice of my parents as introjects that got laid down early on. Both are negative.

The ultimate trick associated with holding on to old internal narratives is to wear down the people around you who do love you and care so that they act accordingly, in other words they reinforce your negative identity claims. What a trick that is? So, you’re looking all the time for any evidence, even from the people that love you, to support the old internal narratives and your negative identity claim. That way you can confirm the old rather than the new. You can confirm the negative identity claim rather than the positive one.

To explore the relationship between old internal narratives and negative identity claims in coaching the childhood story we could follow a sequence like this:

Q: To what extent could you be making a negative identity claim?

Q: How does this contribute to you holding onto your old internal narratives?

Q: To what extent do you prefer to negativise rather than positivise your identity?

Q: What if, when this happens, and let’s say it’s happening now, and let’s say someone has triggered it, it just  makes the transformation more difficult?

Q: So, what do we do now? Perhaps we just shrug our shoulders and say, “well, so it’s more difficult, it’s just harder! So what?”

The key question is, what power is there to change? The fact that the pull of the old internal narratives is extremely strong and that it’s so hard to shake them free cannot be overstated. However, no matter how hard it is to take that step into the other world towards change, there is power to do so. It is possible to make the change. And then, if you slip back, you slip back. Then you are just learning more, that’s all. In one sense you are in an experiment.

The power of the mind! That’s what this is all about. It’s extraordinary!


Sarah Hill