The Trap of One's Story
Dr. Ulla Sebastian
Memories have a tendency to unfold its own dynamics.
I remember a carved wooden doll which I loved dearly as a child.
Relatives from Canada had sent me a "proper" doll, a real treasure in Germany
at the beginning of the fifties. She had hair to be combed; she could say
"mom," she wore a ball-dress and had an everyday-dress to change into. Yet
despite all these advantages, she could not compete with my wooden doll
whose body was handy and robust and whose limbs swung at the nails which
joined them to the trunk. And most important, I loved her.
One day, this precious doll disappeared and was recalled to memory
only thirty years later during my psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis and therapies
in general tend to plough through our lives on its shadow side, searching
for memories which can be held responsible for unfulfilled dreams and
wishes, for the failure of plans and projects, and one's own deficiencies
or life hardships.
And here it was. The memory, the quintessential proof of how little
my mother had loved me, and appreciated and honored my needs. One day, SHE
had burnt the doll. Could anything have better expressed her relationship
to me than this act of carelessness? And yes! During the psychoanalysis
I progressed to the point of counting this as an oversight and not as intended
malevolence. It was a step in the direction of forgiveness, but not yet
One day, when I was preparing to move into the Findhorn community
in the Northeast of Scotland, my mother brought a large package from the
attic storage and said, "I have kept your toys for you. I thought that it
would be lovely for you to have them as mementos." Oh, what painful embarrassment
shook me as I rummaged through the box. On its floor lay the wooden doll.
Nothing was left of the splendor which had invested the early childhood
days, but she had endured through this long time unharmed.
The shock shattered the story of the rejected daughter, and with
it came the collapse of the carefully built card-house of my memories, my
story. It opened my eyes to what had really happened. However, it took some
more years of deep and intense work before I could recognize that the fears
and scares of my childhood had had little to do with my family, that my
mother had loved and valued me as much as I could have wished for, and that
she and I were just as human as are all mothers and daughters, with our strengths
and weaknesses, personal challenges, failures and successes.
This incident stayed in my mind as a warning while I listened to
other people telling their story during therapeutic sessions. I knew now
how the brain deludes us by selecting and assembling single aspects of events
in such a way that it supports our core beliefs. And the more frequently
we tell our story to others, the more we are convinced of its truthfulness.
I found that to the same degree that I could penetrate the construction
of my own story and release it, I could support others in giving up their
This is not as simple as it sounds. We are often fundamentally attached
to our perception of reality. It gives us identity, it excuses our weaknesses
and it justifies our human laziness. Surely, it is the others who are
responsible for our suffering! Why then should we strain ourselves to
change our life?
To give up our story means taking responsibility for our life, for
all that has happened to us, and for all that we have made out of it. To
do this, it is often necessary to broaden our perspectives from the level
of the personality to that of the soul, which is the higher plan that guides
A difficult childhood or traumatic events leave traces. They determine,
how much we trust others and ourselves, how far we allow other people
to enter and share our space, how deeply we buried grief, rage or revenge,
how firmly we keep our heart closed and how much our deeds and ways are
determined by fears. Often these drives, patterns and constrictions are
pushed into the unconscious, together with the events that caused them. We
conceal them with our story, in which we put together events in such a way
that our dignity is guaranteed. Nobody can be easier cheated than we through
To see the events in a new light, we must give up our story. The
first step is to trace how we produce the events that happen over and over
again. This requires some practice, especially when our life's guiding principle
is that others are responsible for our suffering.
The second step is to find out how we produce the situations that
happen to us over and over again. People tend to evade the answer to this
question by making general statements. The devil sits in the details, particularly
in the feelings that are connected to the details. Feelings are the glue
that hold together painful and unpleasant memories. We would like to bypass
them by making general statements.
The third step is to move back into the situations which lie at the
root of the 'evil'. In my sessions with clients, I invite their Higher Self
to join me. The Higher Self is a bridge between soul and mind and is an
expression of the True Self or core of the person. It is closer to the truth
than our Ego, for whom it is more important to save face than know the truth.
I ask the Higher Self to lead us back into the situation where we
can find the key for the present experience. This key opens the door to what
lies underneath the outward symptoms, diseases or problematic life strategies.
Such a situation could be a familiar repetitive incident from childhood
which now appears in a new light, or a traumatizing experience that has
been repressed from consciousness or classified as unimportant.
One such example is the story of a young man who felt that his mother
had restricted his spontaneity and vibrant self-expression to the point
where he had physical sensations of paralysis and being crushed. In an
inner image, this situation presented itself as a large round stone which
had been rolled over a tiger and buried its body. As we looked closer,
the stone changed into topsoil which carried a new germ, the germ of a large
tree, which was now ready to grow. All the oppressive and constricting
forces which the stone symbolically represented, were at the same time
the mother-ground for the unfoldment of his potential.
You cannot recognize this side of the story if you look at it from
the perspective of the victim. Only if you put the story into a larger context,
if you shift your perspective, can you value the gift that is hidden in
it. When you acknowledge and appreciate the positive intent, you can liberate
yourself from the entanglements of the past.
In cases where the experiences cut so deeply and were so painful
that they are repressed from consciousness, it will take longer to reach
the source. You will probably need some guidance, or undertake your own training
and practice. Our inner wisdom opens the door to the unconscious only when
we are one hundred percent ready to see the truth. A part of the work is
just bringing our resistance into conscious awareness. Resistance is another
word for fear. Fear has many faces: Fear of the unknown, fear of responsibility
or of being held responsible. We are afraid to change our life and to let
go of attachments. And we fear that we will not know who we are without our
All these fears are legitimate because they carry a grain of truth.
It is important to acknowledge and appreciate them, without getting trapped
by them or surrendering our power to them. If we dare to look at them,
they lose their power and terror. Upon closer inspection, we find out that
underneath the threatening fantasies are events which, seen in the light
of day, are human. The knowledge relieves and liberates us.
A child interprets events according to the mental capacities that
are available at the time when traumatic experiences occur. As adults we
are more able to accept human limits. To the degree to which we develop understanding
and sympathy for our own weaknesses, we can also accept that our parents
or the other important people of our childhood were not perfect. At this
point we allow ourselves to see the larger truth and say good-bye to our
story. At this point we attain the freedom to bring about overdue changes,
to dare the new and to take responsibility for our life.
For further readings on this subject, see the book: Growing through Joy . Findhorn Press 1999