We all get caught in an endless cycle of stories throughout the day. Whether we’re scrolling on Instagram or just stuck in the never-ending news cycle (anyone else tired of talking about the Coronavirus yet?), we humans are simply drawn to stories. 

But what happens when we create narratives that keep us trapped in an endless cycle of worry and victimhood? These stories become more hurtful than cathartic, and they can even change our core belief system.

Find out how to get out of your own way by transforming the narrative of your stories.

What Is Negative Storytelling?

Negative storytelling is when we get stuck in an endless cycle of woe-is-me. It happens when we add a narrative to a story that doesn’t accurately portray what’s really going on, and we layer negativity into a story that isn’t accurate. 

For example, I recently found myself complaining about a client who often fails to pay his invoices on time. 

He never pays on time.

He’s always asking for discounts.

His actions are so disrespectful. 

Right away, you can see that I’m creating a narrative that might not be accurate. One red-flag statement is, His actions are so disrespectful. There’s a good chance (OK, probably a 99.999 percent chance) that my client’s failure to pay me on time has anything to do with disrespect.

If he disrespected me, he wouldn’t have hired me in the first place, right?

The second red flag is the ‘always and never’ statements. There’s a very rare chance that he has ‘never paid on time.’ And I know my inbox isn’t inundated every day with requests for discounts on services. So right away, I know those two statements aren’t true.

Negative storytelling and self-victimization don’t make our lives better. They make crummy situations much much worse.

Because the pain of being disrespected hurts more than the discomfort of looking at the slightly-lower-than-usual balance of my bank account.

How Do I Know When I’m Doing It?

Never and always statements are great indicators of self-victimization stories. If you’re trying to learn how to get out of your own way, you’ll want to keep an eye out for them.

Secondly, you’ll want to avoid making statements if you’re unsure that they’re 100 percent true. 

This is difficult in an era marked by clickbait headlines and a president who casually makes untrue statements almost all of the time. (Yes, that’s an all-the-time statement but when I fact-checked it, I discovered he indeed made more than 15,000 false statements over 1,055 days.)

If you catch yourself saying things like, “My kids are always fighting,” or, “My husband is such a louse,” it’s time to stop what your saying (or thinking, for that matter) and rewrite your story.

But Wait — What If I Am the Victim Here?

It’s OK to be a victim — just don’t let it define you. True victims rarely want to be defined by the crimes committed against them.

If something effed-up happens to you, talk about what happened and how it made you feel. If Tim owes you money, say, “Tim was supposed to pay me $1,500, and I’m really stressed because I need that money to pay my rent.”

You should also avoid statements like, “I never get the things I deserve,” or, “I always get scammed by people.”

According to Lissa Rankin, M.D., these types of statements become a part of your core beliefs. So the words hurt you way more than they hurt the person who harmed you. Even if you’re not the type of person who never gets what you want, these core beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies. 

Negative storytelling and self-victimization don’t make our lives better. They make crummy situations much much worse. 

Because the pain of being disrespected hurts more than the discomfort of looking at the slightly-lower-than-usual balance of my bank account.

How to Get Out of Your Own Way and Change Your Story

The good news is that once you start noticing your negative stories, you (and you alone) have the power to change them! 

Recognizing when you need to change can feel like the hardest part of changing because you don’t know what you don’t know. You know? 

Try using some of these tips to help you learn how to get out of your own way and change your story.

1. Use I Feel Statements

Even if you start by saying, “I’m feeling disrespected,” you’re on the right path. The second step is breaking down that statement and saying, “I’m feeling disrespected because…” Maybe it’s because you believe respected people are always paid on time. But maybe — just maybe — you’re not feeling disrespected at all.

Locate where you feel that negative statement in your body. For me, I felt fear in my stomach. That feeling of not having enough feels like anxious moths fluttering around in there. When I feel disrespected, on the other hand, I feel it in my chest. It feels angry and hot. 

To me, that’s a signal that I’m not actually feeling disrespected. If I were, I’d feel it in my chest instead of my stomach.

2. Don’t Believe the Hype

I don’t believe every thought that enters my brain. If I did, it would mean that I’m no good at anything, I never finish tasks and oh — by the way — no one likes me anyway. 

This means I don’t believe that I’m disrespected by my non-paying client. It also means that I don’t believe I’m a person who no one respects, either (which is a thought that has popped into my head once or a thousand times throughout this Tom-not-paying-me situation). 

What I do believe is that Tom hasn’t paid me. And maybe my rent will be late. That’s all. 

3. Reframe the Situation/Rewrite Your Story

If I find myself saying, “Tom is so disrespectful,” or, “Tom hasn’t paid me, he must not respect me very much,” I can easily say, “Wait. Tom probably doesn’t have the money to pay me back.” Or, “I’m actually afraid I won’t be able to pay my rent this month because Tom hasn’t paid me.”

Say what you mean. “My bank account balance is $1,500 less than I’d like it to be.” Or, “I’m feeling stressed that Tom might not pay me at all.” 

Not great. But it’s still better than believing I’m not a well-respected person. Failing to pay my rent on time and checking my bank account balance have nothing to do with my core beliefs. 

4. Use Setbacks as Teaching Tools

If you find yourself going down that spiral of victimhood, the worst thing you can do is freak out. Instead, be gentle with yourself. When you’re first figuring out how to get out of your own way, you’re going to have a few setbacks.

Remind yourself that you’re new at this, and rewriting your stories takes time. Make note of what situations trigger your negative storytelling so you can be prepared the next time one of those situations arises. 

5. Create a Foundation for Self-Confidence

If you find yourself telling negative stories because your core beliefs are compromised, you’re going to want to create a foundation for self-confidence.

Mantras and emotional freedom tapping (EFT) can help strengthen your positive core beliefs

You can create your own mantras by flipping your negative statements. If you find yourself saying, “No one ever wants to hang out with me, I’m so lonely,” change the narrative to, “I have a lot of friends that enjoy my company.”

EFT is basically a technique that helps you rewire your brain to think differently by tapping on pressure points (the same ones used in acupuncture and acupressure) while making positive statements. 

I like EFT because sometimes a positive mantra feels a little fraudulent when I’m feeling the opposite of what I’m saying. EFT tracks start by acknowledging your negative thoughts and feelings and accepting them. You then explore why you feel the way you do before moving on to the positive statements. 

I use both EFT and mantras as a part of my morning ritual to set a positive tone for the day.

6. Let It Go

What do you do when you’ve done all you can do? In the words of that famous Disney princess, “Let it go.” (Yes, you now have that song stuck in your head for the umpteenth time. Sorry.)

As far as I know, no one ever got paid what they were owed by sitting around and worrying about the situation. I’m also pretty sure no one was ever sentenced to life in prison because the person they tried to kill worried their attacker’s sentence into being. 

In fact, worrying touts some pretty bad side effects, including stifling your decision-making process and weakening your heart

Do all you can do. Send Tom a reminder that his invoice is due. Ask your lawyer to send him a letter. Hire a collection agency. And then let it go. You’ll feel better. Trust me.


Have you been learning how to get out of your own way? How do you handle negative self-talk and self-victimization? Let me know in the comments below!