By Dr. Ken Larsen
We start out as babies, learning to get our needs met. We try to make sense out of what we are experiencing. We write the early pages of our story in memory. Even though we won’t remember that first chapter, it will still play an important part in the rest of our story. That first unremembered memory will have an impact on our ability to regulate our emotions and on our ability to connect with others in social settings.
We learn that when we have a need, when we are hungry or wet, we can cry hoping that someone will pay attention.
Many of us have learned that there is someone to meet our needs. To comfort us and let us know that we are wanted and worthwhile.
Some of us learn that our needs are a bother to the other someone in our life. We begin to wonder about our worth.
When our needs are met with a loving response, we learn to trust and can connect with others in satisfying relationships.
When our needs are met with irritability or neglect or abuse, we learn not to trust. We find it difficult to connect with others and are often lonely and alone.
As life goes on we tell our story to ourselves and to others. If we have unremembered memories of a secure relationship from early on that is helping us get our needs met, our story tells of ongoing progress in learning and relationships. We can probably regulate our difficult emotions when they trouble us and we can connect with others in satisfying relationships.
If our first chapter records shaky connections with caregivers, where our needs were met erratically and we couldn’t count on the comfort we needed, we tell ourselves and others of our inability to make progress in relationships. We are either overly clingy and anxious or we avoid close connections because we remember the pain of that early failure to receive love and care from another. We have problems dealing with the hard feelings we experience and look for something or someone outside of ourselves to fix the way we feel.
The telling of the story of our past shapes the present chapter. If our story is mixed up and painful, it will affect how we deal with the present circumstances of life. The good news is that we can change our story. The answer is not in who can fix us. The answer is within us. We have a choice in how we tell our story to ourselves and to others.
If we are fortunate to connect with someone who can help us make sense out of the confusing conflicts of early life we can reframe the ways we tell our story.
We can make a choice today to organize a coherent narrative of our life, recognizing that we don’t have to repeat the past if we work at making good choices today. We can learn that others can be trusted and we can take the risks to draw close. We move cautiously, but we can choose to connect. We come to see that we are not alone and that our needs to be connected in relationships can be realized.
We can learn that we are worthwhile and able to be with and share with others. Making sense of our story helps us see who we really are and how we can find meaning and purpose. We can learn to accept ourselves and our past and choose a fresh, new today with renewed hope and faith. We can begin to live a more full life in the only time we have. Not in the past. In the now.
As we have learned to tell our own story in ways that are helpful, we can be ready to help others who may be struggling with a life story that has messed them up.
We have received the gift of making some sense of life, and we can give that gift to others.
We can tell our story so it brings life to ourself and to others, remembering what the song says “you hold the key to love and fear all in your trembling hand. One key unlocks them both, it’s at your command.”