The phrase “perception is reality” embodies a deep truth that unites neurobiology, philosophy, and spirituality. How we interpret the “stimuli” that we come in contact with shapes our reality, our selves, and our world. As a therapist, I am often asked why we should look at our past. I am met with the statement, “You can’t change the past, so what’s the point?” Early on in my career I agreed, but discussed some of the technical features of therapy and skirted the issue. As I gained experience, I realized that we can change the past. Many people see their past through a particular lens, attaching certain meanings and beliefs to those perceptions. How they “see” their past determines who they are today. The pain they experience causes them to try and cut out parts of their story, parts of themselves, but the reality is that every area of our story can be redeemed.
So often, individuals are terribly harsh with their younger selves or fail to see their strengths. I can’t tell you how many people have told me an undeniably courageous story only to slump in the couch ashamed at their failures and weaknesses. Often it takes a second pair of eyes to really get a grasp on the truth of our selves and our past.
How we experience life has much to do with the neural pathways of our brains. Think of neurons as a series of train tracks connecting feelings, memories, and thoughts. Often we have strong tracks connecting to negative feelings and painful memories, almost any event can get us on those tracks and make all of life look similar to the memories we THINK we have always experienced.
But have you ever noticed how a song or TV program or phone call can all of a sudden change the whole way you see life? Subtle shifts in our perception can change the entire landscape of our lives before we even step out the door. Sometimes making an intentional shift feels so daunting because we haven’t built many “tracks” to the positive and we haven’t been very proactive at dismantling the tracks to the negative, but all of us have the capacity to change our past and alter our present.
This is the first installment of a series I’m calling Our Life Story. I want to encourage us to take a look at our story, how it impacts us, and how we can change that story.