Soul Sessions by CreativeMind

How Your Personal Story is Holding You Back

February 20, 2024 Debra Berndt Maldonado and Robert Maldonado PhD Life Coach Training and Personal Transformation Experts Season 8 Episode 200
Soul Sessions by CreativeMind
How Your Personal Story is Holding You Back
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers
Are you the hero of your own story, or is your narrative holding you back?

Discover how your narrative can shape your life's path and what it means to transcend beyond the story into true self-awareness. 

We'll challenge the default scripts handed down by culture and upbringing, learn the importance of responsibility in crafting our narratives and embrace the freedom and success that can come with a narrative that empowers and gives us purpose.

In this episode, we explore:

  • How our personal stories define our identities and limit our potential
  • The transformative practice of non-attachment and how it leads to personal freedom, exemplified by historical figures like Gandhi
  • Techniques for creating a more spiritual and fluid sense of self when life disrupts our personal narratives
  •  The illusion of inherent meaning in external events and how our constructed narratives influence our entire reality
It's time to redefine your personal narrative and unlock a level of consciousness that can liberate you from your self-imposed limitations. 

•••

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INTRO  00:00

Welcome to CreativeMind Soul Sessions with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado, founders of CreativeMind. Explore personal growth with us through Jungian psychology, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience in a deep, practical way. Let's begin. 


Debra Maldonado  00:23 

Hello, welcome back to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I'm Debra Maldonado, here with the fabulous and amazing Dr. Rob Maldonado. We’re excited about the topic today, which is the power of your personal story can make you or break you. We're going to get into some narrative psychology. But before we begin, I do want to request to help us out. If you could subscribe to our channel on YouTube, if you're watching us there, click the button in the corner. If you’re listening to us on one of the podcast services, don't forget to subscribe because it brings more people to the show and helps more people get this information. Thank you so much. Today, what's the story, Rob?


Robert Maldonado  01:07

There's a whole psychology of a narrative, it's called narrative psychology. There's therapies that evolved from it. Of course, there's deeper philosophical movements that predate these psychologies and techniques. Constructivism is a fancy word to say we’re the creators of our story narrative.


Debra Maldonado  01:34

We do create the story. There's some debate whether someone impresses stories on us, but actually we accept them. We have to take responsibility that even if we were around a narrative from our parents or culture, we decided on some level to accept it. Instead of “They told me I was not good, that is why I don't feel good enough,” you accepted it on some level. The only way we have power is to take that responsibility.


Robert Maldonado  02:08

Our perspective is Jungian psychology. Jung would definitely say we're making up our story, we’re the authors of it. Eastern philosophy would definitely agree by saying our story is a type of dream, a type of illusion and apparent reality. Then current neuroscience essentially confirms that our brain is a pattern making, pattern seeking, pattern recognition instrument that is always looking for meaning. It creates a narrative instinctually, automatically, but we don't have to buy into it. Jung says the world will ask you who you are. If you don't know, meaning, if you're not the author of your own story, it's going to tell you, it's going to give you a narrative from which to live, which is what happens to most of us, we're given our narrative through our culture, our schools, our parents, etc.


Debra Maldonado  03:14

Our life history, things happened to us, we decide what they mean. We create a story around it. When I was doing love and relationship coaching, I’d speak to someone for the first time, they were telling me their story about why they can't find the right person. In the narrative already, I could see within five minutes of speaking to someone exactly why they're stuck. Of course, there's much depth to how you can go with someone. But even in the story, we can see how we limit ourselves or the story could be positive, too, it can be motivating as well. But the central character of the story is us.


Robert Maldonado  04:01

This identification, what does narrative give us? It gives us a sense of who we are. Who is the hero of my life, myself or sometimes others? Often people have narratives where they aren’t the central character. There's someone else that is the central character.


Debra Maldonado  04:24

They're they're the extra, say, I'm an extra and Debbie show. Joking around. Yeah. Yeah.


Robert Maldonado  04:30

The identity piece is so important because it gives you a sense of yourself. In Jungian terms that would be the persona. It creates this sense of “I am the character”, almost like an actor having a role to play in the play of your life. The narrative defines what your role is.


Debra Maldonado  04:56

It's interesting because we do this with other people too. We label them as characters, the person that’s rude at the grocery store, cuts the line, or has 40 items when it's a five item aisle, what kind of person is that? You make that person a caricature. You don't know who they are. We do this with everyone. Then the people in our life, who our mother is, who our father is, our siblings, people we married or divorced. They all have characters in our mind. We have a story, a narrative around them, a backstory. Why do we do this? Why do we create this? We need meaning, is that what it is? To make everything mean something?


Robert Maldonado  05:40

More fundamental, we need a sense of I, a focal point from which to live our lives. Who is the one experiencing my life?


Debra Maldonado  05:53

Someone who doesn't have a sense of I would be, for instance, a multiple personality. That would be a person who can't have a cohesive self. So it's good to have that?


Robert Maldonado  06:06

That’d be an extreme case. A lot of people have a weak sense of self. They're very much driven by the circumstances, they're always trying to fit in, blend in with the background, not being noticed because they don't feel they have that presence of being myself in the moment.


Debra Maldonado  06:31

I've noticed in groups with friends, even with our clients, there'll be someone who's a little more shy, a little more reserved, a little more introverted. They’d always hook up or match up and be buddies with someone who's very extroverted. It's like that person is living out the other part of their character.


Robert Maldonado  06:49

We need that strong identity which is tied to the narrative. But as we'll see as we go on, we're not meant to stay there. We're not meant to just play out the narrative given to us by our birth, our families, or schools, the personal history that happens to us. That becomes the default narrative. Most people identify with that default narrative.


Debra Maldonado  07:22

There's the identity, it creates the narrative, there's the meaning it creates. When you think about narrative, there's a great book, I'm sure everyone has read it, A Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, who found himself in a concentration camp. Under horrific conditions, facing death, the loss of his wife, I don't think he knew his wife died, he held her picture and was focused on her. This idea that he said that we need meaning. The way he survived is find meaning in even the littlest things. When we are in extraordinary circumstances, meaning helps us, in a way, keep it together.


Robert Maldonado  08:08

Meaning is the ground we walk on. If we don't have a sense of meaning in our lives, we feel like we're tossed about by the wind and the waves of the ocean. For us human beings, it's a sense of being lost and directionless. In current times, you hear news about people ending their lives because of despair. Those are critical levels of meaninglessness. The individual loses the sense of meaning of their narrative, of their life.


Debra Maldonado  08:57

When we coach our clients and get to the root core fear, almost 90% of them say a meaningless life. Everything they're fearing, all the job or relationship stuff, it all comes back to meaninglessness. It’s the greatest fear. Meaning is really important to us. How does identity and the meaning create our reality?


Robert Maldonado  09:19

That's where the constructivism philosophy comes in. It says something like this in common language. The way we use language as human beings, not only to communicate ideas with each other back and forth, but to structure our reality. The reality is amorphous, the universe doesn't have any meaning, except the meaning that we bring to it.


Debra Maldonado  09:49

In Buddhism they talk about the emptiness of meaning. We bring meaning to everything.


Robert Maldonado  09:57

Emptiness in Buddhism is a little bit different. But in existential terms, the world doesn't provide you with meaning. The external events don’t have meaning in themselves. They're neutral. It's us who project our meaning onto them. How do we do that? We do that through language. Language constructs a narrative of name, form, and storyline. It gives us a place in that storyline. We construct our destiny very literally through that narrative of ourselves.


Debra Maldonado  10:36

When my father passed, I was at a flower shop, we were looking at the flowers for the funeral. At the same time, this woman's there getting bouquets for her wedding. It was two opposite thing. We were facing this really sad moment, but she didn't know my father, she didn't have that meaning, the sadness and the grief we had. We didn't know her and her husband. We can be in the same place but have two different narratives going on in our life. Not everyone falls in love with the same person, not everyone likes the same person, everyone has affinity to people they love and care for versus a stranger. That's where we start defining what's important, who we give authority to. That's the reality we're constructing.


Robert Maldonado  11:34

That's the reality we construct. The illusion is that there is meaning in the external. People will argue this until blue in the face that the meaning is out there. “That happened to me, it's bad,” or “This happened to me, it's good.” They believe the meaning is inherent in the events or in the actions other people take. That's an illusion, the mind is very good at creating that illusion through projection, through certain neurological mechanisms. It creates a sense that I’m observing, I'm walking onto a stage that's already built for me and things are going on already. That's a total illusion. We’re creating the stage as we walk onto it through our narrative. We’re bringing along the meaning of things within us.


Debra Maldonado  12:36

In acting, the actor does character study, especially a real life person, interview them to step into that character with all that backstory, all that meaning, their narrative. Then they bring that character to life through the acting. We do that ourselves, we bring our character to life, then that character based on the narrative, that's the outcome of that person's experience. If the narrative is “I can do anything, I’m invincible’, that will seem to be that person's experience. But if it's always “People never show up for me," if that's your narrative, guess what, no matter how much you ask, or keep boundaries, or speak up, if you have it in your narrative that people never help me or I'm not supported, it's going to keep showing up. You think it's out there, but it's really in your mind and your projection. But you can say “I have evidence, all these people in my life didn't show up for me, how can I say that's not true?”


Robert Maldonado  13:36

From this perspective, we can ask, what's the difference between somebody that's successful, happy, married and fulfilled in their lives, their life isn’t perfect, nobody’s life is perfect, but they have it together in a sense, versus somebody who's struggling, dissatisfied, depressed, or anxious about their circumstances? What's going on there is that the individual that is happy and fulfilled has a narrative that places them at the center of their story and empowers them. They have a sense that they have a purpose in life. They're sure they're here to do something special, what they do is meaningful, helpful to others, they're contributing to others’ welfare, society. This faith, this belief, this certainty they have is very powerful because language creates our reality. They're essentially creating the opportunities for their own advancement whereas the individual that buys into the sense of meaninglessness, nihilism, that there is no meaning in the universe, that nothing is important, or that I'll never matter, they're creating those circumstances for themselves through that narrative. It's a very powerful way of seeing ourselves. For us, coaches, and people we train as coaches, this is vitally important to understand that the individual’s narrative is often the core of what they're experiencing in their life.


Debra Maldonado  15:37

It's the part you could see of your unconscious patterns and conditioning in the narrative, it’s right there. Listen to yourself, process. Then we teach this exercise called self-inquiry from Eastern philosophy. You sit with an emotion and watch the narrative arise. But what we tend to do is we want to rewrite it right away, we want to get rid of that feeling. My favorite is “Everything happens for a reason. I'm going through this because it's for my greatest good.” We try to fluff it up and make it pretty in order to feel more comfortable versus asking “Why am I so hooked into this?” It's because our identity is tied into it, our meaning is tied into this external event, that's creating that reality. 


INTERMISSION  16:36 

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Robert Maldonado  17:31

Where does it come from? It comes from our history, the things we experience, especially early on. Those early experiences, almost every psychology agrees, early conditioning, early experiences play an important role in everything. It's how our brain develops, or how we see ourselves. This narrative, where does it come from? From those experiences. It literally structures our brain in a particular way, so that for the rest of our lives, if we never do self inquiry, like you said, the self examination, it remains with us as our main story. That's who we are in this. This is what we can expect from the world.


Debra Maldonado  18:19

We're a character and the world is this big place that we're trying to survive in. We don't feel like we’re part of defining that story. We're just going for the ride, like a cart being pulled by the horses of destiny. We don't realize that we can take the reins and redirect our life. For most of us, no one told us we had this power. It’s just wait for the right timing, wait for a divine intervention, wait till someone comes in, the right chemistry with the right person shows up, or the right business opportunity, the right marketing message that's going to get your business. All this stuff is externalized. If you don't have the narrative that you can succeed or you can accomplish anything, you’re deserving of good things, it won’t show up. If it does, you'll sabotage it because it doesn't fit your narrative. We see people that hit great levels of success, then they destroy it. It's because their self identity, their narrative doesn't fit, so the ego has to tear it down again.


Robert Maldonado  19:26

Often people go through life blaming family members, teachers, bosses, exes, etc. We all do it, this is not pathology, it's just narrative. But that narrative is disempowering. Anytime you're blaming other people, other, external circumstances for your results, you’re giving your power away. If you examine that narrative, it's like if you're reading a novel and the character in the novel is saying “So-and-so hurt me in the previous chapter, therefore I can’t succeed.” Now, that's a disempowerment pattern. They're going to play out this pattern because again, the language structures reality, therefore they see it in their life. That's the mechanism of self replication in their story that if you believe this narrative to be true, you actually see it, it becomes your reality. Then it feeds back to that belief that I was right.


Debra Maldonado  20:43

The purpose of why the mind creates this is to make sense of things. Because if things didn't have meaning, it’d just be us getting up in the morning, going to work, everything's bland, it doesn't have any hope. Some people may think “That's my life, I don't have any meaning. I feel like I'm going through the motions.” Again, this narrative is really important. Because if we don't have meaning, it does feel like I'm just existing, taking a shower, putting on my clothes, eating, going to work, coming home, watching TV, doing something online. Like that saying that the wise man chops wood and carries water just like the unwise man. You can do the same thing. But you can have meaning and purpose in the things you do.


Robert Maldonado  21:38

I like the book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. Why do we hold on to this story? Because it gives us our sense of identity and meaning. There's psychological mechanisms that are more survival oriented, we need this survival strategy we've developed through our narrative. We feel that if we lose it, if it's threatened by new information or self-inquiry, we're saying it has the potential to end my existence.


Debra Maldonado  22:28

The existence is this identity. Right? It is a sense of security. This is a great example. During the Depression, a lot of very wealthy people lost everything. They were jumping out of windows because they were so identified with the story and the identity. Their story wasn't enriched anymore. They felt emptiness or meaninglessness. Why do I do that? You can see how we hang onto our relationships, our money, our status as ways to feel there's some solid foundation in the world. If that structure is disrupted, that's where we have anxiety. Like when you move to a new place. When I moved to Colorado, I was 29 years old, I was stressed out, all my friends were different. I was in a different climate and a different job. It was a lot for my mind, it was overwhelmed with that. The story of “Who am I now?” When we have a disruption in our life, it’s a great opportunity to ask that question. Who am I? When these things happen, a business fails, or relationship fails, or you get sick, you have to go to chemo and lose all your hair, all of a sudden you're thinking “Who is this person?” It's always an opportunity, because the narrative that fit us before now has to change, which is a good thing.


Robert Maldonado  24:10

Yes and no. There's two points of view. It’s not right or wrong, but more of what the different philosophies and psychologists tell us about this. Certainly, one approach is okay. If this is the case that we’re creating our own life through this narrative, then let's change the narrative, let's create a positive narrative where I'm the hero, everything works out, I succeed. That's a good model. Most therapies, most coaching models operate from that perspective. If that’s the case, let's think positive, make everything a great story. Eastern philosophy, though, gives us a different perspective, in part Jungian psychology as well. Because here, the approach is more of is there a perfection? Is there a perfect life that we can aim for? I turn everything to positive, everything I touch turns to gold. There isn’t.


Debra Maldonado  25:29

I was thinking an opportunity isn’t to make things better, but an opportunity to know who we really are outside of the narrative. Not “I'm going to use this to be more successful,” it's more “I'm hanging on to a narrative, it falls apart a bit,” it gives you an opportunity for enlightenment. That's what I was thinking.


Robert Maldonado  25:50

What does that mean? It means not so much that you're going to make a better story, but that you're going to realize that the observer of the story, the one that is experiencing the story isn’t the character that you believed yourself to be. It’s not the identity of the persona, as Jung would say. There's an observer in the mind, the one that’s actually observing you playing out your life.


Debra Maldonado  26:25

What I was saying is that opportunity is understanding you can't rely on the ego anymore. You have to seek something else that's beyond your character, where your center of life, the foundation of your life is built around a character. When something happens that tears it down, or takes away the fame or the glory, or whatever it is, now's the time to ask “Who am I really?” That's the opportunity not to make it positive but say “Who am I? Why am I here? What is this all about?” “Who am I?” is the real question.


Robert Maldonado  27:07

That's the fundamental question, who is the one experiencing my life? Because if we’re the actor, the mask, as Jung says, we're identifying with a mask, with a persona, we're still only trying to make a better narrative, a better play for ourselves, instead of understanding the bigger meaning of the whole thing being a play, the whole thing being an illusion, or Maya. Not that it's not real. It's real in the sense that it's happening, we're observing and experiencing it. But it's an illusion in the sense that it's not permanent and the meaning we ascribe to things is our interpretation. It's not an absolute reality. An absolute reality would mean, the meaning is the same for all of us, anyone that experiences that thing, that experience, would come out with the same interpretation. That never happens in life. Everyone sees it from their own point of view, their own perspective, which means it's an apparent reality.


Debra Maldonado  28:25

Why we hang on to it is because it gives us some foundation, the ego is our ground, in the first part of life, it becomes the ground from which we live. When that's disrupted, now we have to create a new sense of ground, which is a more spiritual, more fluid part of ourselves instead of the fixed living itself. How do we change it? How do we change the narrative? How do we change the character, evolve the character to expand? Because if you think about it, the character can only have a defined limit of how much they can experience in their life, their level of love, the level of relationships, the type of money they make, the kind of work they do, how they express their talent, how much reach and influence they have. But if they transform the character and know that the character is just a character, they can play any role they want, they can write their own screenplay of how that character lives out the rest of their life. How do we do that? How do we really change? It’s evolving the character but also expanding the capacity for that character to create their life in a new way.


Robert Maldonado  29:43

If we look at Eastern philosophies and some Western philosophies as well, and spiritual traditions, there were two ways. One is to abandon the role completely, to walk off the stage and say “I'm not going to play this because it's like being caught up in a drama that is going nowhere. It's not leading me to fulfillment. It's like replaying the same narrative over and over.”


Debra Maldonado  30:18

Would that be like someone who shaves their head and gets a spiritual name, or puts on the spiritual garb? I'm this new person now, I'm abandoning the old me. Or even just changing your name, you're identifying with this new character.


Robert Maldonado  30:37

Many spiritual traditions have this practice of removing themselves, either temporarily or permanently, from social circumstances in order to escape the narrative, social structure.


Debra Maldonado  30:55

Leave the home, don't get married, or if you’re married, you leave the wife or husband and join the convent. Or join the cult, people do that.


Robert Maldonado  31:07

It plays out in many different ways. But it seems to be an intricate aspect of human nature. That's one of the options we have. Renunciation, it's called in Eastern philosophy. Renunciation is definitely one. But then there are other philosophies. In the Gita, Krishna is explaining to Arjuna, that that's not the only way, you can also act without attachment to the result of your actions. That liberates you. It has the same effect as removing yourself from the social narrative, but you remain and stay in the act.


Debra Maldonado  31:56

Loving the act for the act. Say, you want to give, you love giving, so you give and you love it, whether one person likes it or not. We always tell our coaches, you share your knowledge, share your wisdom, but don't be attached. The heart and soul should be into the sharing. That's what you're here for, expressing your purpose, the results are extra. If you get one person who shows up for your little workshop, or you get a hundred people, it doesn't define you. That's freedom where a lot of people get caught up in success and the response. If my boss gives me that promotion, if I make this amount of money in my business, if I get married, if I'm with the right person, that's going to define me. When we are attached to those things, we bring suffering with us, it's the cause of suffering. Attachment doesn't mean we don't care. I'd love for you to talk a bit about that because a lot of people say non-attachment means apathy, or you don't care, you're like “It doesn't matter anyway, I'm just a spiritual being. I'm just gonna float through life, nothing matters.” Non-attachment is caring, but your ego’s not attached.


Robert Maldonado  33:13

We see a great example in Gandhi. His work was very important to him, obviously, he was very dedicated to that work and to the result of that work. But personally, he performed the actions as much as possible. Again, these are practices, not necessarily complete states of being all the time. But the practice was to take the action needed in the moment. For him, it was civil disobedience, to resist the governmental structures at the time because he understood them to be leading people towards bondage. What's important, not only his people, or the Indian people, but the British themselves were caught up in the act. Therefore, he saw them as being caught up, suffering as well. The action he was taking was both for his people as well as the British occupiers. Now, this is an amazing idea. Liberation can be reached through taking action, staying in the world, yet dropping the attachment to the result and continuing to act as your duty dictates. He saw his duty as liberating India from colonialism. He understood exactly why he had to do, his practice wasn't to do the actions required of that duty but letting the results be the results. Whatever happens, I'll work with that. There's no attachment to that.


Debra Maldonado  35:05

He wasn't doing it like “I'm the great Gandhi, this leader.” He did it like he was a tiny man. It was more about the message versus about him and his character. He wasn't saving India, it’s the principles that were saving India, his ideas that were saving India, not him himself. The important part of this is that you can change your narrative, you can make a better story about anything, you can say “Everything happens for a reason” or “This path was meant to be, I learned all these lessons, I'm more confident now,” prop up your character. But if you don't change your character and identify that this is really you that's out there in the world, doing all these things, forget about your true nature, which in Eastern philosophy is the witness, the pure awareness, that's really who you are, not this character that's acting in the three-dimensional world, you won't be free, you’re still creating another story. I always call that rearranging the furniture. Changing your beliefs, or changing the way you talk about yourself, or thinking positive. All those things are great, I don't think anyone should not do those things. But that's why a lot of people stop there. They don't change the character, they keep the same character with a better story. What we really want to do for true lasting transformation is discover who we really are. This transformation of the character or identifying with this ego character to identifying with our true nature, which doesn't have the hard definitions, the barriers and the guardrails around it. It's a freeing self that's less judgmental, that's less fearful, it just wants to be expressed.


Robert Maldonado  37:01

Both renunciation and practice of acting with non-attachment lead to the same place, which is transcendence of this cosmic play we're caught up in. It's not pushing it away. The idea is not to push it away, or to reject it.


Debra Maldonado  37:29

Or even say “This isn't real, so it's not important.”


Robert Maldonado  37:32

It's more to transcend it, to acknowledge it, even honor it. But to understand that we need to free our mind from it because when we're caught up in it, we're caught up in our ego. This story becomes about us, the character we're playing is very much invested in what’s going on with me, what's going to happen to me, which is ego, it's a limiting perspective on life. Therefore, it traps you in this limited way of being. Whereas the transcendence liberates you from that limitation.


Debra Maldonado  38:15

It's like taking time and space out of the equation and being right here in this eternal moment, that eternal moment of limitlessness. To be in that more often than in the confines of this appearing as a physical world with its limitations. Be in this internal moment, where there's no narrative in a way. Would you say that? It's a no-narrative, it's a place not empty of meaning, but we can drop the story. It's a beingness.


Robert Maldonado  38:53

It’s meaning itself. In Vedanta, they say it's not being, it's beingness itself. It's not awareness, it's awareness itself. It's not blissful, or experiencing bliss, it's bliss itself. That’s the center, we're reaching the center of our being, which is pure consciousness, pure awareness.


Debra Maldonado  39:25

Our brain is always doing that. When we get into situations, it's always scanning the room and always assessing. It's always coming up with narratives and stories and how you relate to it. It's me and that thing, what I need to do and how I feel, this emotion and this tension and this joy in my body. When we went to the Grand Canyon, it was 15 years ago, we went to Arizona. I remember looking at the space, it was the most incredible feeling of all these layers and layers of Earth, it's so amazing, this experience. You see pictures and you're like “It’s beautiful.” But there was something different about it, you almost got high from watching it. I asked you about that. You had mentioned that your brain was charged. It's trying to calculate all the layers because it's just does that. It's like “How do we survive? How far is this one and that one?” But it was so overwhelming to our brain that it blows our mind in a way, then it just becomes empty, and we have that state of awe. That's really what our life is if we have more moments where our life has that being in awe of breathing and being alive and not having to put meaning to everything. That's where real freedom happens.


Robert Maldonado  40:49

It's a beautiful way to put it.


Debra Maldonado  40:53

I love this topic. If you enjoyed it, don't forget to subscribe to our podcast or if you're listening us here on YouTube, click here on the button in the corner and make sure you subscribe to our channel. We'll continue with another great episode next week. Thank you for joining us. If you have questions about your own personal narrative that we talked about today, don't forget to put your comments below. Take care everyone. 


Robert Maldonado  41:21 

See you next time. 


Debra Maldonado  41:22 

Bye bye. 


OUTRO  41:23 

Thank you for joining us. Don't forget to subscribe to CreativeMinds Soul Sessions. Join us next week as we explore another deep topic where you can consciously create your life with CreativeMind Soul Sessions. See you next time.



Introduction to the purpose of a personal story
Why we create our personal story
How identity + meaning create our reality
Where our personal story comes from
What happens when our sense of security is gone
Why we hang onto our personal story
How we can change + evolve our character