self sabotage

5 Unhealthy Narratives That Will Sabotage Your Life

Picture this.

You’re meeting someone for the first time. You only have a few minutes to make an impression. What would you say about yourself? What details would you include? What details would you leave out?

Or imagine this.

You’re waiting for the train. You see that the CEO of a major company is standing next to you on the platform. To pass the time before the next train arrives, they engage you in conversation. “Tell me about yourself,” they ask. How would you communicate the essence of who you are in such a short amount of time?

Now take the next five minutes to actually answer the question for yourself.

Who are you?

Write down anything that comes to mind.

Okay…the reality is that only a few of you will actually stop and do the exercise. In doing so, you are communicating something about yourself. This simple behavior suggests that you are serious about getting the most out of this article. You are motivated. You are willing to invest some time and energy into understanding yourself. That’s part of your story—and it says something about the kind of person you are.

Others of you, however, are more likely to keep on reading. Maybe you consider yourself to be too busy or haven’t yet decided if this article warrants your full attention. Perhaps you believe yourself to be smarter than others or think that you can take a shortcut and still get the gist of the message. That’s part of your story—and it says something about the kind of person you are.

Within every one of us, there is an invisible force that guides us through our lives. All of our decisions and behaviors are driven by the stories we tell about ourselves. It is our personal story—our narrative.

Despite the large impact our narrative has on the way we live our lives, seldom do we stop and take note of the messages we are transmitting to others about ourselves. This lack of awareness is dangerous, especially because many of us have unconsciously adopted narratives that are unhealthy and counterproductive to our overall goals and well being.

Unhealthy Narratives

Is your narrative outdated? Are you acting out issues and stories that originated in your childhood? When the stories we have no longer match the current realities and circumstances of our lives, we feel frustrated, exhausted and bored.

Are you a victim? Do you believe that others are responsible for the things that happen to you? People who adopt this story become passive observers rather than active creators in their own lives. Instead of taking responsibility for the way things are, they point to others’ actions and place blame.

Does your story convey a sense of narcissism or selfishness? Is everything always about you…even when it’s really not even about you at all? Narcissistic storytellers don’t consider other people’s perspectives. Who do you think will be attracted to people who tell narcissistic stories?

Are you self-depreciating or dismissive? Do you downplay who you are out of fear or lack of confidence? This can be very subtle. You might qualify your statements with phrases like, “It probably made no difference but…” or “This is not important but…”

Is your story inconsistent or incoherent? Are there holes in your story? Do the inconsistencies cause others to question your credibility? Perhaps you say you value one thing and engage in activities that would cause doubt.

All of these are examples of unhealthy narratives; personal stories that can hold us back, cause us to attract the wrong people into our lives and sabotage our true potential.

The Good News

The good news is that our personal narratives are alive and able to be altered. At any point, we can make the conscious decision to change the personal story we communicate to the world and consciously create stories that empower us. By creating healthier narratives, we shift our identity from that of passive recorder to active author.

We go from being a historian to a novelist and reclaim the power to create our own life story.

What is a Healthy Narrative?

Healthy narratives are both integrated and integrative.

A personal narrative that is integrated is one that incorporates all aspects of the self into one cohesive story. Integration is not about presenting a sanitized image of oneself, and it’s not the same as affirmations. On the contrary, integration requires the full acknowledgement of limitations, weaknesses as well as resources and strengths.

A healthy narrative is also integrative. As we change our personal stories, we are actually also altering the structures of our brains. This increased functionality expands our capabilities and our resiliency. For more information about the integrated brain, click here.

What story will you choose to tell?

For those you who were too busy to complete the five minute exercise, congratulations! You made it all the way to the end! Now go back and do your homework! J


Alana Mbanza is the Content Editor of Green Psychology, a site dedicated to effective communication skills, healthy relationships and personal development. Connect with Green Psychology on Facebook or follow on Twitter @GreenPsychology.

Photo credit: ‘Strength‘ by Big Stock

36 Responses to 5 Unhealthy Narratives That Will Sabotage Your Life

  1. Fatihah anon says:

    don’t know about others, but my narratives largely depend on how i feel at the time. there are times i’m feeling positive and i’m prepared to give out brilliant narrative but other times i just can’t help but admit that i might be unreliable, unmotivated, or other lacking of mine…

  2. Radiantred says:

    There is something amiss in this article…

  3. Ana Palacios Barrera says:

    well I admit that I tend to give a ”sanitized” narrative, and it’s a bad habit, sometimes is nice to be able to express your weak points and made your own narrative powerful and true

  4. Radiantred says:

    Should be itemized 1 to 5 to be consistent with the title =)

  5. Kissingra says:

    i don´t talk to strangers, when waiting for the train

  6. Bullshit says:


  7. Baviary says:

    This is an article…it is meant to be read. It was not advertised as a self-help active piece of reading that offers anything else but straight forward information.  Did I ‘stop and do the exercise’? Yes and no! It means NOTHING when some person tells you who you are by your reaction to HER article!  While it has some interesting and helpful information, the writer does not realize the impact she can have when TELLING others what they are like without even knowing the person!  Yes, I am in the psych field so I do know what I am talking about.

  8. Juicijuice says:

    This is the first time I haven’t read an article from start to finish. You see, I chose to read the whole article before doing the exercise. But then I decided to stop after 20seconds of reading. I’m just wondering… What does that tell you about the kind of person I am? Just curious… :)

  9. Eric Preston says:

    Also in Psyc, I think the author makes a great point about our narrative effects the structure of our neurological processes in the brain. For example, when you tell a story that has incorrect details, or details that have been altered in some way, the more you tell the story, the more you are likely to actually believe it yourself, over time of course. I think as people we also greatly underestimate others abilities to conditionally form judgements of ones character. When someone knows nothing about you, those first few minutes of conversation paint a rather detailed image of who, or what you are as an individual. I think the moral here is to be careful of how you present yourself, because your presentation may be holding you back in some areas of life.

  10. Richard says:

    hahahaha.. good strategy and very helpful too… my story will always be about thanksgiving… of course every personal story take a shape of its own according to what experiences a person has, and that’s what makes every human being unique from another… isn’t this a wonderful world to live in with so much diversity…

  11. Ereist says:

    I strongly agree with this article. Our personal story  has to be worked on so that we live a better life without anxiety and stress. 

  12. Psych_oodelic says:

    it all comes down to unconditionally loving yourself and others 

  13. Interesting how many different reactions there are to an article, as we all have our own stories which then affect how we see and interpret other stories.  I’ve read some self help books about how our thoughts control our feelings, but there always is something missing from this – as least as far as how I experience life.  There are times I have thoughts and play them over and over in my head, and it does affect my feelings, but more often, I have a feeling first, and thoughts come later.  The thoughts don’t create the feeling – the feeling creates the thought.  

  14. Troy Rooney says:


    + I am a hard worker. I am considerate. I am a soothing
    influence. I am reliable. I am a people person. I work well with others. I can
    delegate tasks. I am a good judge of talent. I recognize quality with ease. I
    strive to put my best work forward. I love to learn.

    – I lack confidence. I’m never going to be the smartest guy
    in the room. I don’t have a clue what my niche is…


    + I’m very open. I can be very kind and giving.  I can be very charming. I can be funny and the
    center of attention. I can have serious conversation. I love to learn. I
    possess a great deal of empathy. I am reflective. I am disciplined. I have many

    – I can be a jerk when things don’t go my way. I hold on to
    things for too long. I can be irrational. I do things for others too often for
    personal gratification. I’m not great at small talk. One on one (close
    friends/girlfriends), I often times become introverted/disinterested. I am selfish.
    I am a very rigid thinker. I’ve known these things for some time, but have yet
    to change…

  15. Gary Walton says:

    “It’s your thoughts behind the words you speak that create your attitude” Jeffrey Gitomer

  16. NexFioVos says:

    My unhealthy narrative is a compilation of all the ones mentioned, and should really have its’ own classification. :p

  17. Alana Mbanza says:

    Thank you for sharing. I can totally relate. The story I tell about myself varies based on circumstances and whoever I might be speaking with. I don’t necessarily see this as a negative thing. We are complex beings and it makes sense that we will share different parts of ourselves. Integration is mainly about acceptance and awareness of these parts and being able to reconcile both the positive qualities and limitations or weaknesses.

  18. Alana Mbanza says:

     I’m interested in what you mean…

  19. Alana Mbanza says:

     I do too! Sometimes I only feel comfortable giving the “elevator pitch” version of myself but I don’t see that as a bad thing all the time. Obviously, we don’t need to share our deepest selves with everyone we meet and in every situation. I imagine it would be pretty weird to tell a person you had only met for 5 minutes your darkest secret and I don’t think it would have much purpose. The importance of an integrated narrative matters mostly in self acceptance and awareness. It’s most important when it comes to what you tell yourself (about yourself, lol) because as I mentioned in the article, that then affects your actions and behaviors…and ultimately your life!

  20. Alana Mbanza says:

     Thanks for the feedback! I agree, it’s a lot of text and could have been broken up (mental note). :-0 )

  21. Alana Mbanza says:

    I apologize if there was confusion and offense. I wasn’t trying to make any snap judgments or assumptions about people. I was merely suggesting that our actions and behaviors say a lot about our values and beliefs. I tried to use words like perhaps and maybe to indicate possibility but I can see how someone might think I was stereotyping. If anything, I hope I caused people to take a moment to think more consciously about themselves and their patterns of behavior. I appreciate your comment and hope I clarified myself.

  22. Alana Mbanza says:

    The only thing I can say for certain is that you are a complex and multifaceted individual! 😉 My goal was to challenge people to think about their behaviors and actions and the stories they tell themselves.  I would be more interested in what you think that says about the type of person you are…

  23. Alana Mbanza says:

    Yep, that’s exactly what I meant! LOL. Thanks for your comment! ;-D

  24. Alana Mbanza says:

     I totally agree, the way we see ourselves and the world is colored by our own perceptual filter based on family/personal history, culture, values, etc. I’m always amazed by how many different interpretations can occur in response to the same event or stimulus. Thanks so much for your comment!

  25. Alana Mbanza says:

     Thank you for your comment!

  26. Alana Mbanza says:

     Totally agree and I love your name! ;-D

  27. Alana Mbanza says:

     I really appreciate your comment and also find the diverse reactions fascinating. It is so true that our stories our shaped by a variety of very individualized experiences. I tend to see thoughts and feelings like the chicken and the egg conundrum. Which truly comes first? The world may never know. ;-D Thanks for sharing!

  28. Alana Mbanza says:

     Love this, thanks for sharing!

  29. Alana Mbanza says:

    Looks like you have a high level of self awareness. In response to your final statement, I would suggest shifting the emphasis from “changing” to merely observing and accepting. I’ve found that the greatest growth happens not when I force it but when I simply allow myself to be wherever I am at the moment.  I appreciate you taking the time to share!

  30. Alana Mbanza says:

    LOL, yea I have definitely  adopted most of them at various points in my life as well.  The good thing is that I am aware of this and from your comment, it seems like you are too. Self awareness is always the first step! Thanks for sharing!

  31. Jimmy-J says:

    Your behaviour shows you don’t have respect for others,it’s ok to disagree with this article but there’s no need to use bad language and at least you should elaborate your point more.
    Based on your derogatory and agressive posting,I’d say you fit the narcissistic type,sorry guy

  32. PsychedinSF says:

    Learning about self perception can be a very difficult task to take on. Understanding why we make view ourselves the way we do and knowing how to overcome any obstacles holding us back starts with recognizing the roadblock! This is wonderful!-PsychedinSF

  33. PsychedinSF says:

     may view* Pardon me!

  34. Pingback: 5 Unhealthy Narratives That Will Sabotage Your Life | I_am: Imparare a migliorare

  35. clyde_t says:

    i thought this was a great piece. i have been paying especially close attention to the stories i tell myself in my head. the main thing i have gained is to wonder why i assume i am credible. the point is, you naturally believe what you tell yourself, yet still you are prone to denial, arrogance, shame, hubris and many other character traits that really, when you consider it, undermine your reliability as a narrator of even your own tale. whenever you start to sound like a broken record in your head, you can be sure there is a deeper force that is preparing the speech.

  36. Pingback: Five Unhealthy Narratives That Will Sabotage Your Life - Cultivate Confidence | Cultivate Confidence

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