The Price We Pay for Our Limiting Stories

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As I travel back from my grandmother’s funeral, I have a fresh awareness of the price I pay when I choose limiting stories. Up until about five years ago, I was completely clueless that I had limiting stories nor did I have any idea what they were. All I knew is I longed to be deeply connected to my husband, children, friends, and family, and something seemed to be getting in the way. It turns out it was my limiting stories or the judgments, assessments, and assumptions I decided were true about myself and others.

Growing up in an angry home, I believed I wasn’t worthy or valuable enough to receive love. Earning love seemed the only way to get people to like or notice me. That approach led me to co-dependent relationships, an addiction to work, and a repeating history of shallow and empty relationships.

My stories about who I was and who I could expect others to be seemed true as I experienced the same results in relationship time and time again. From my perspective, I felt like I was always being taken advantage of as I offered so much to people and got little in return. I was sure that no matter how much I extended of myself, eventually, the other person would get tired of me and my emotional drama and abandon the relationship.

What I couldn’t see was I was the one producing those results. When I assumed abandonment would be the inevitable result in each of my relationships, I showed up untrusting, judgemental, giving to get, and very suspicious of people’s motives and actions. I limited who others were before I ever got to know them.

Trust, honesty, and vulnerability were what I longed for, but my story led me to be a perfectionist, a people-pleaser, and a control freak. I offered the version of myself I thought others would like. The anxious, scared,  inauthentic me I offered in each relationship was mirrored back to me by the other person. I was reaping what I was sowing.

These last eight years have been the most incredible journey of my life as I have interrupted my stories and offered my authentic self to relationships. My marriage, my children, family, and friends are teaching me they are not who I thought they were. They embrace the true me in a way that allows me to write a new story of connected, committed, and intimate relationships.

The hardest part has been dealing with the pain from the seeds I sowed all those years. My husband and I had to face the addictions we used to numb the ache created by our co-dependency. I had to wait for my children to let go of wounds I had caused and for them to trust that my love was new and here to stay. And, I had to own the pain I had caused the people I loved dearly when I'd held them at arm’s lengths and, in many cases, assumed the worst about who they were.

This weekend I got another one of those opportunities to see the pain my story cost my grandmother and me as I sat at her funeral. The story I had told myself throughout the many years of my relationship with her was that she wasn’t overly fond of me or my high energy approach to life. She worked hard to bring our extended family together every year to celebrate the holidays and offered us the most amazing array of baked goods. She regularly had me sleep over at her house and sent annual birthday and Christmas money. Nevertheless, I was convinced she loved doing these things for all the other members of our family, but her offerings to me were simply out of obligation to treat everyone equally.

A common theme in my limiting story, up until now, is I am the least favorite. I thought that was true with my father, many of my teachers, and bosses, and I was completely convinced that was the case with my grandma, too. It was easy to get other people to agree with my story as I pointed out the things she would say and do that seemed to confirm my limiting story. I was clueless that this was a story I was working to confirm; rather, I saw it as fact.

Interrupting these stories allowed me to begin showing up differently in many relationships. However, I allowed the two-hour distance between my grandma’s house and mine to put the work of letting go of my judgments and building a new relationship with her on the back burner. When Alzheimer's impacted her ability to recognize who people were and have real conversations, I convinced myself that offering my authentic self to that relationship would be a waste of time.

That is until I sat at her funeral this week. As my cousins and siblings shared beautiful memories of the love they received from my grandmother, I realized I was the one who had paid a great price. I had allowed my story to block my ability to receive and embrace who she truly was. All I could see was my story. I completely missed the gift she was to so many people around me. I see now that I didn’t want to see who she was because I liked my story. It felt safe and comfortable to be right (we love to be right!), to get sympathy, and to protect myself from who I feared she was.

I sat there at her funeral with tears streaming down my face, and it was a beautiful gift to interrupt my story. In my heart. I asked her to forgive me for my judgments and lack of curiosity about who she was. I imagined myself sitting with her in her right mind and having a vulnerable conversation with her and confessing my story of how I feared she felt about me. I got a clear sense that she would be shocked and saddened by the walls I had put up that blocked her many acts of love from penetrating my hard heart. For the first time in my life as I laid down my old self-protective story, I saw her love in a new way and realized my story had blocked my ability to receive the very thing I so deeply longed for in my relationship with her.

I made peace with my grandmother that day, and I am so grateful to be out from under the weight of holding her at bay in my heart and mind. I drew her into the depths of my heart, and I appreciate the beautiful legacy of work, faith, and sacrificial love she left for my family and me.

I was once again reminded that the price my limiting stories cost me when I judge and self-protect from others is far greater than the momentary pain of being honest and vulnerable with that person. While it is too late to physically do that with my grandmother, this missed opportunity brings me a new sensitivity to explore the depths of my heart and find any relationships that I still need to make right before it is too late.

Does my experience bring to mind any limiting stories you are living in, up until now? What price are you paying as you choose to be right about who people are and how they feel about you? If you would like to tear out old crops and plant new ones, here are six steps that will allow you to rewrite your story and begin experiencing the relationships you long for:

  1. Notice you have a story. If there is someone you are holding at arm’s length, what are you telling yourself is true about them and what they think/feel about you?

  2. Consider what else might be true, if not truer than your story. If you were wrong about who that person is, would you want to know?

  3. Get off your judgments. What have you decided is true about this person? Let that judgment go.

  4. Own your contribution. As you live in your story, in what ways do you show up with this person that might be damaging the relationship? With my grandmother, I held her at arm’s length, I was too scared to have real conversations, and I focused on what I thought was safe.

  5. Get honest about your longings. What DO you want this relationship to look like? How would you need to show up to sow the seeds that will produce that result? I longed to have a special relationship with my grandma. I needed to start sharing my heart with her.

  6. Choose curiosity. With your judgments interrupted, interact with the person in extreme curiosity about who they are.

While I wasn’t able to physically walk through these steps with my grandmother, I was able to do them in my heart. I believe she was with me in those moments and helped me to grow in the truth of who people are. Thank you, Grandma, for the life you lived. I know the battle you fought to leave an abusive marriage for your children’s safety when there was no government aid and divorce was shameful. I know the hard work you poured into the many people you fed daily at the places you worked. You offered yourself in love regardless of whether it was received, and that is what paved the way for me to experience freedom in my own journey. I pray that am able to leave the legacy you did by living in truth and not allowing limiting stories to keep me from the gifts that life and love offer me.