The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I have spent time over the years learning more about myself and those around me from a relationship management perspective. First of all because it was my job and then because I wanted a better and more fulfilling relationship with my husband and with my children too.

In that journey, I learned about ‘Personality Types’. The four types are classified in a few different ways, but in short are:

  • Choleric/ Dominance (outgoing/task oriented)
  • Sanguine/ Influencer (outgoing/ people-oriented)
  • Phlegmatic/ Steadiness (reserved/ people-oriented)
  • Melancholic/ Conscientious (reserved/ task-oriented)

I determined that my husband, who is an architect and very creative person, is reserved and hugely task oriented (Melancholic). I learned that he can lean on the more pessimistic (cautious) side of life and that has perfectionist tendencies. However, he is organised, self-reliant, independent, detailed and incredibly loyal.

I am a mixture of all 4 ‘personalities’ as many people are. I am more Sanguine and outgoing, but have introverted tendencies at times. I am known as a ‘centrovert’. However, now that I have effectively labelled myself and others, I do not then live by or make excuses because I am a certain personality type; it just helps me to focus on those issues that I need to work on most.

For example, I am of the personality type that is free and easy, come and go and often that means that I am perpetually late. This annoys my husband since he is rarely late.

I recently started doing some freelance work for a friend of mine in her small business. She is reserved, but incredibly task oriented, a combination of choleric and melancholic. She is straight talking, gets stuff done (and on time) with a plan. Needless to say, she hates it when I am not on time. She often tells me that she factors into her plans the fact that I will usually run about 15 minutes late every time, but in the process, I have learned that my irresponsibility with regards to my time keeping puts that responsibility onto someone else.

More importantly, I learned that I was spending a lot of time justifying why it was okay that I was late. I started telling stories to myself to make it alright. But was it okay?

Some of the excuses I would tell myself and others were:

  • It took too long to get the children ready and out of the house
  • I forgot my phone so had to go back
  • I just had to finish that one thing I was doing before I left
  • I didn’t realise how long it would take to get there

The reasons we come up merely serve to blame someone or something else rather than take responsibility for our own actions. This is reflected in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3: 8-13):

“And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the Garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.”

Although we were created for responsibility, there is something in all of us that wants to avoid it in some areas of our lives. As a result, our irresponsibility can cause conflict. Conflict with our families, friends, colleagues and even strangers. So it is important to look at the excuses we come up with to justify our irresponsibility. We need to be sensitive to how we blame everyone or everything else but ourselves.

“The meaning of these verses is clear… namely that man’s rational allowed itself to be so deceived by the cherished proprium, that is, by self love, that he believed nothing unless he could see and touch it. Anyone may recognise that Jehovah God did not speak to a serpent, and indeed that there was no serpent, nor even that He spoke to the sensory part of man, which is meant by the serpent. Anyone may recognise that these statements embody something different, namely that men perceived that they were deceived by their physical senses, but because they loved themselves they first desired to know whether what they had heard about the Lord and about faith in Him was true before they were ready to believe it.” (Arcana Celestia 229)

So with this in mind, I started to look at my tardiness and what I realised was that I was disrespecting someone else’s time by being late. Why should I make someone else wait because of my ineffective time management?

I have seen the disappointment it causes to my children and others when I am late getting them to a friend’s house, because then there is less time for fun and games. I have seen the annoyance from my husband that we are not on time (again) and he feels embarrassed to turn up late, or to take longer to get a task done.

Every now and again, there are real reasons to be late, that are beyond my control (things like traffic jams or weather conditions spring to mind) but not all the time.

Then I spent time looking at why I was late. In most cases, it really was poor time management and planning on my side. So I did a few things:

  • I prayed to the Lord for guidance and support
  • I looked at my priorities for every day, week and month
  • I started to say NO to things I couldn’t fit in – I had been overcommitting myself
  • I started to get more organised about my day – getting up earlier, or staying up later to organise for the next day

They were small steps in the grander scale, but I worked out if I was realistic and truthful to myself and considered others in my plans, then I no longer needed to tell myself stories to justify my actions. It was a huge weight off my shoulders and it has been a thrill to be early sometimes. I am not 100% there yet, but awareness was the first step. If I know I need to be late, I inform others ahead of time and rearrange appointments if necessary.

I have found that I am more honest with myself and more honest with others. I take more responsibility for my own lateness and this has improved my relationships with others around me. They can see that I am trying to be early. I find myself becoming frustrated with my children when, despite my best laid efforts to get everything done to get to school on time, there is someone without shoes on or someone who hasn’t yet brushed their teeth. But whereas before, it would have thrown a massive spanner (wrench) in the works, it now is a minor irritation.

There are many other stories I tell myself about other areas in my life. Chocolate eating used to be one (just one more won’t hurt) and exercise another one I need to work on (I just don’t have the time). These are a work in progress… but one step at a time.

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

Are there areas of your life where you are telling yourself some stories to justify the things you are doing which maybe causes conflict somewhere in your life with family and friends?

Take time to consider what you come up with and pray for guidance.

About Anne Waters

Anne is a wife, mother and career woman. She is married to Gary and has 3 children. She grew up in Scotland and went to Edinburgh University where she got an MA in Japanese. She moved to London after University and spent the next 10 years working for various Japanese and American companies using her Japanese and gaining valuable business skills. It was in London that Anne met Gary and decided to get married and have children. After their second child was born, they moved to Durban in South Africa, where they live now and where Gary is from originally. Their third child was born in South Africa. Anne is now able to be a full time mother to their three children, whilst teaching Japanese and English as a Foreign Language during the hours the children are at school. Anne was raised in the Church of Scotland and came to the New Church through marriage and has spent the last 7 years in South Africa delving deeper into the writings of the New Church with the support, love and friendship of other like-minded women in the New Church in Westville.

2 thoughts on “The Stories We Tell Ourselves

  1. Anne, I really enjoyed this article. For a few weeks now I’ve been building up the energy to tackle another fault in my personality: I am ridiculously bad at showing gratitude (writing thank yous and sending thank you gifts etc) And after reading your article, I’ve been identifying the “stories I tell myself” aka “excuses” surrounding expressions of gratitude.

    I’m struck by how rational some of my stories are– and the more logical, the easier they are to use as an excuse to inaction. My most persuasive excuse is that I don’t enjoy receiving expressions of gratitude myself. I love helping people but I don’t need or want lots of recognition for it. So I don’t think to turn around and show lots of gratitude to other people– a simple, heartfelt “thank you” to them in person and I’m done.

    Just like the Personality Type thing, it is useful for me to understand who I am and how I work. But sometimes I fall into the “that’s just the way I am” trap– and then my “identity” becomes an excuse for inaction.

    Just because I am who I am today, doesn’t mean i need to be that person tomorrow.

    So thank you Anne, for a fantastic article ?

  2. Phew, Anne, that’s huge!! Thanks so much for sharing this insight, and baring yourself so vulnerably for us. Your honesty is touching, and so helpful. I’m so glad you’ve noticed and identified these tendencies, and are working to remedy the situation — congratulations!! (Sorry for the delayed response, btw – I have a few (!) untouched article notifications in my inbox, which I’m finally committing myself to addressing!)

    As for me, I’ve become more and more aware of my own issues around CONTROL. I’ve been a pro at excusing why it’s ok to be so controlling about what my son eats or how much screen time he should get, for example (“I’m only looking out for his best interests, after all!”), and lately have started to label this ‘condition’ as an addiction, which I suppose it really is. (Ouch, that’s painful! 🙁 ) Like you, I’m praying about it, working to remember where priorities really lie, and turning some things over to my husband to handle, since I’m apparently not capable of making a wise discernment between ‘healthy parenting’ and ‘obsessively controlling’. Ugh, it’s a chore, alright….

    Thanks again for this article, and I wish you all the best in your journey! xx

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