I have talked and written such a lot about the many different ways that the childhood story can show up through our high-stakes reactivity. In other words, there is a trigger in our interior or exterior context which evokes a shadow behavioural response from us. Shadow behavioural reactions are the ones that we are least proud of ourselves for, that we feel some shame, awkwardness, or embarrassment about after an interaction. What’s lurking behind that shadow behaviour is the childhood story of imperfect love and the old internal narratives we have developed as a result of that story.
Some of these old internal narratives do, of course serve us well, but when we react out of this shadow behaviour, it’s the twisted, stubborn, and sometimes perverse ones that start to really show up. They are hard to change because at a certain point in our lives during childhood (0 to 23 years old) they will have served us well. They may even have ensured our survival when we were facing adversity or struggling to thrive and step out into the world to be all that we could be. For example, one of my own old internal narratives is that to speak up and say what I need is dangerous. As a child growing up in my family, this was true and served me well because it guided my reactions, and the choices I made. However, in my adult life, it has held me back in all manner of different ways.
I have said and written less about how that same childhood story of imperfect love with its set of old internal narratives, can show itself when we are trying new things that we feel positive about or when we are choosing to develop ourselves in some way, apply for a new job or learn a new skill. There is still an element of high-stakes reactivity associated with these very positive things and so of course it’s only natural that we may start reacting out of our shadow behaviour in these moments too. So our reactions result in us not bringing forward our best selves. Instead we may come away from an experience and feel some self-consciousness or guilt about the way that we reacted. We may wish that we had responded more skilfully in ways that we know we are capable of.
I had my own personal experience of this recently. I love to sing and have at times over the years joined singing workshops and choirs. That said, I am an introvert and a shy and private singer. There have only been a couple of occasions when I have sung for others, once at a friends wedding and once at a memorial service for my teacher. Both times were hugely stressful. As I reflect back now using my model for understanding, engaging with and changing the impact of our childhood stories of imperfect love, that stress response makes perfect sense.
I have done a lot of work on myself. I know my childhood stories inside out and upside down. I know my old internal narratives well and I’ve dedicated myself to living my new internal narratives for many years now. So it was with huge surprise and shock – although I can’t believe I’m saying this, because it’s so obvious to me now that it was bound to happen – that I found myself in the midst of a storm of shadow reactivity on beginning to work with a new and wonderful singing teacher, coach and mentor, Mahasukha [https://www.mahasukha.co.uk/]. I felt open and exposed, vulnerable and tender as he encouraged me to find my true vocal range and challenged me to go there. Suddenly, I was confronted with a seemingly impenetrable wall of doubt, fear, shame, and worthlessness, right there in front of me, right there, threatening to result in me, retreating and running away.
For a moment, I was really taken aback by my own reaction, and if I’m honest, a bit dismayed with myself, that, here I was yet again facing the impact of my old and familiar stories and their internal narratives. Thankfully, with some help from the same wonderful teacher, I picked myself up, rolled up my sleeves and set to work. To run would have been to follow the old internal narratives. To stay was part of living the new ones.
We really can choose to welcome and embrace moments like these as opportunities and gifts. We continue to be our own work in progress all our lives. There will always be times where we are challenged by the negative impact of some of our childhood stories. That’s never going to stop. However, we do have choice in these moments and we absolutely can choose a different and more up to date pathway, i.e. a new set of new internal narratives about the self.
Thanks to what felt like an existential crisis at the time, my own new internal narratives have been added to in beautiful and wonderful ways. Here are my new, new internal narratives;
I am not ’too much’, it’s what I endured as a child that was
I am not the thoughts that make me hide
I am not the worthlessness I know inside
I am worthy to voice and be heard
I have value in simply being me
I am good enough and more
I am the light that others see
Some might say, and I would be one of those people, that having caught sight of new internal narratives like these, that this is when the most challenging work begins. Challenging because it requires us to be bold, courageous and daring; we have to be willing to dare to go there, to dare to do a deep dive into the self, to sit in the darkness and to see the light. We also have to dare to live our new internal narratives once we have been brave enough to do what’s necessary to bring them into view. My sleeves are most definitely rolled up and I’m ready to go forth!
Go to https://dialogix.co.uk/products-publications/ to find out more about Childhood Story Work including ‘Where did you learn to behave like that?’ and ‘Dare to….’
by Sarah Hill