Posted in Blog, Emotional wellness, Featured, Just for you, Life as a mom, Love and marriage, Rebecca

Make your own meaning

Many years ago I attended a personal growth and leadership development seminar. It’s actually where I met my husband and my dearest friends in the world. (literally, they are spread out all over the world too.) I’m going to share with you one of the most important things I learned in that first seminar. The exercise was called Fact versus Meaning.

Let’s first talk about what a fact is. Here’s the definition.

  • something known to exist or to have happened

And now the definition of the word, meaning.

  • the significance or purpose of something
Now let’s pick an example. Fact: I am adopted. (I wasn’t adopted, but for the purpose of explaining this, it’s just an example to use.)
The fact is that I am adopted. It’s something that has happened. It’s an event, a situation. A moment in time. What does it mean? In and of itself, it means nothing. It’s just a fact. However, I have given this fact a meaning. Let’s say that I found out I was adopted when I was 10. I attached a meaning to it that I was unworthy, that I was not wanted, that no one loved me. I carried this meaning with me all throughout my life. It became a lens through which I viewed everything else. What kind of affect on my life do you think this perspective and meaning would have? Probably not a very positive one. However, until I apply a different meaning to the fact that I was adopted, I can’t let it go.
The great news is this. Because I attached my own meaning to that fact, guess what? I CAN CHANGE IT TO SOMETHING ELSE. I can change the story and change the meaning. What if I changed it to mean that because I was adopted that I have a special story to share about my life? Or that maybe I’m better off with a family that can provide for me? I can literally change it to mean anything. I can reframe the story to be a positive one that supports me in moving forward in my life.
Are you seeing this? I was completely blown away when I first discovered this.
Now for the serious stuff…..let’s talk about something real.
  • Fact: I had a c-section.
  • Meaning I applied to that: I failed. I wasn’t capable. I am not strong. I am ashamed.
The fact is I had a c-section. Holy smokes!!! Look at all those terrible and negative meanings I have applied to this! This was absolutely ME for the first year after my son was born. Do you honestly think I was EVER going to have another baby? No way. I was done. Nothing on earth could convince me any different. I had given it my all and failed. I had not been strong. I had let the worst happen, etc. etc. etc.
I finally remembered all of this that I had learned. After being pretty depressed (although hiding it very well) for an entire year, I finally sought counseling. It was only through the amazing listening and counsel of the beautiful Penny Simkin that I remembered this.
What if I never heard from the midwives that they were sorry about making an awful mistake? What if I couldn’t get a re-do? I didn’t need one. I could change my story and take the power back.
You know what’s funny to me now? In the same way that I applied the meaning that “I am weak and couldn’t deliver naturally”, I can now say that “I was so strong and lasted 32 hrs with no pain meds and pushed for 5 awful hours.” Wow. That took a strong woman!
And what about the “I failed” part? No, I did ALL that I could do. It was not EVER completely up to me. My son had his head turned to the side in the canal. There is no possible control I had over that baby. How about I didn’t fail? How about I make it mean that I succeeded? In the end, didn’t I end up holding my precious little son on my chest? Didn’t he make it out just fine? I did succeed. I gave it all I could, all I had to give. In the end, my son was born and that’s the result I cared about. Ok, maybe for a while all I cared about or thought I cared about was having the perfect birth. The perfect story to brag about how I did it all natural and didn’t need a c-section. *hey self, here’s your fake pat on the back while I gag*
Wow. Do you know how long it took me to put a new meaning to my birth story? About a second. As soon as I saw what I was doing, it clicked. My story ONLY has the power that I give it. My birth story ONLY has the meaning that I place on it. How did I want to remember it? Sure it was physically awful. Sure, it was different than I thought.
Things happen all the time in our lives. Every time something happens, we make up a story about it. Most of the time, we never change our stories. It doesn’t matter what we tell other people. It matters what we tell ourselves.
We can take these stories into the future and they can either support us in a positive way. (I like feeling empowered about my birth rather than feeling like I failed.) OR, we can take our negative stories with us. But I just want you to ask yourself what those stories are doing for you? What are they getting you telling them that way?
To be honest, there was a short period of time I liked being a “victim” about my birth. I liked telling the horrible story. I got a certain amount of attention and even if it was negative, I guess I liked it. When I laid in bed at night though or stared in the mirror into my own eyes, that was not the story that I wanted to keep retelling. And the more I told it, the more convincing it was to myself.
Looking into my eyes in the mirror now, I can see complete vulnerability. I can say, “I’m proud of you for that birth. You gave it all you had girl! You are strong and very courageous!!”
If you’ve attached a meaning to your birth or any other fact in your life, just know that YOU alone have the power to change it if you want to. Your husband can’t change it. Your counselor can’t change it. Your doctors and midwives can’t change it. Your parents can’t change it.
So go for it. Start changing the meaning you’ve made up about what’s happened to you. I promise you will be surprised at how empowered you will feel!
If you need to support in this, please email me. I’d love to talk or help you through it. Drop me a line at rebecca@momsalive.com.
xoxo
Rebecca
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  1. Great article. Very touching. I had two miscarriages before my first child was born. The story I told myself was that my child was not ready yet to come into the world. It gave me hope for the third pregnancy. Now for the first few months I was a little worried and was ‘careful’, whatever that means. In other areas of my life, I have told myself negative stories, being influenced by how my early family looked at the world. Those are the stories I have worked to change. I was able to change the stories enough not to pass them on to my daughters who are well adjusted and happy. So it was all worth it! Thanks for your article, you are a great storyteller!

    • Hi Betsy.
      It really is a powerful concept if you can grasp it. Throughout life we will ALWAYS be struggling with negative circumstances or events that challenge us. We will have many opportunities to keep telling the negative story or turn it around to be positive.

      Awesome to hear you were able to do that too!

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