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Esther Perel on the Power of Stories

Esther Perel shared a great video on the power of stories—the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, the stories we tell others, and what role they play in our life.

What are the stories that embolden us?

What are the stories that entrap you?

My favorite part is really the takehome exercise towards the end of the video, which I’ve also written up at the bottom of this post.

You’ll find that sometimes a story might both embolden you in some situations, and entrap you in others.

  • 3:40 Our stories help us connect to others. They help us understand our past. Who we were then, who we are now, and who we could become in the future.
  • Love is a story. Heartbreak is a story. Our memories are stories.
  • Stories bring the world to us through bedtime stories.
  • Do you remember childhood stories that you wanted to hear again and again?
  • Stories find us while we get lost in them.
  • We tell stories to introduce ourselves to other people.
  • We like to tell stories of artists we’ve discovered. Social media is basically just stories, often very intimate ones.
  • Sometimes, stories supersede the truth.
  • Have you ever caught yourself making unfair assumptions about someone else? Unfair assumptions are a story
  • Do you often find yourself explaining why you are the way you are to someone who interprets your story as an excuse?
  • Ask yourself: What if you’re actually trapped in your own story?
  • Whether a story is true or not—does it serve you?
  • Example of mini-stories we use to justify our own behavior:
    • Because I’m so busy, I’m always late.
    • Because my brother stole my toys, I can steal from others.
    • Because I’m independent, I don’t need anybody else.
  • the stories we tell ourselves are often reminders and act as protection and prevention, they were often adaptive responses to a traumatic life plot. we came up with our stories for some reason.
  • our own narratives banish our helplessness and make us able and strong
  • if a date is late, we might immediately default to our story that “i’m not important”, but this sometimes prevents us from experiencing reality
  • writing new stories isn’t just about letting go of the heroes story that has led us to where we are now, it’s also about developing a new hero, to get us on a new journey
  • we can add to our story, edit it, refine it, lead it. it’s an creative act of agency
  • 15:15 How do you know when you’re trapped in a story?
  • For the first therapy session Esther conducts with a client, she always has 2 goals:
    • establish a connection, build an alliance
    • have the person come in with one story, and leave with the potential of another stories (or at the very least, pieces that have the potential for another story) – the potential for transformation. From being stuck, to movement, from repetition to change.
  • we are not in control of how life unfolds, but we have agency about how we structure and interpret it.
  • new interpretations give us options and liberate us, they can create hope and possibility for change

Takehome exercise to create new stories, and edit old ones

At 21 minutes into the video, Esther Perel then shares a takehome exercise. She provides a couple of prompts, questions to answer on your own:

  • How does anxiety talk to you? What does it say? How does say it? What does it want you to believe? How does it influence your interaction with others? How does it block you?
  • What do you say to yourself, when you want permission to try something new? How does that voice speak to you?
  • What is the dialogue between the part of you that fears the worst and the part of you that dreams about more? What’s the dialogue between the constriction and the expansion, between the fear and the boldness?
  • What do you want to say to the person who still looks at you with the eyes of the past and doesn’t see all the changes you’ve made? We all can encounter this—we meet people and they still talk to you as if you’re the 16 year old they once knew, even when you’re 45 now.
  • If you wrote the story of your life up to this point, what would the chapters be named? These chapters might be connected to the people who were closest to you, or they might relate to economic circumstances, or health, or simply chronologically.
  • If you wrote the story of your future, what would the chapters be named?

To me, this is a wonderful exercise, and well worth doing. In fact, you might look at this and think: Oh, that’s a good idea, I’ll do that sometime. I’d encourage you to do it right now, even if you have to squeeze it into five minutes, rather than taking a full hour to do it sometime later. (You’ll most likely won’t get around to it, even if you have the sincere intent to do so—but if you take 5 minutes right now, you’ll still get 80% of the benefit of doing the exercise)

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