Personal Mythology: the Deep Importance of Your Own Story
The story you tell yourself about your life journey is a matter of vital importance. Jungians refer to it as your personal myth or personal mythology.
The phrase “personal mythology” may seem pretentious, yet we all have stories that we tell ourselves about who we are, and what our individual life is like. This includes stories about our important relationships, our family of origin, our career, our school and post-secondary years—an immense variety of things. Human beings are creatures that need stories—narratives—that tell us who we are and who we have been. They indicate the significance of all the important relationships, things and events in our lives. Stories give us our orientation to our lives and the world. They also provide meaning, and as Jung observed,
The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.
However, we can tell ourselves all kinds of stories! Some of those stories connect us to reality, and to a sense of value and meaning. Some stories do the exact opposite: they diminish us. We need to be aware of the immense power of story to both help us and to hurt us. We need to find the stories that convey the truth of our lives. We also need to connect with the overarching story that reflects the meaning and value of our lives.
Do you have a sense of the stories you tell yourself about who you are and your life journey? If so, do those stories actually ring true? And do they capture the essence of who you really are? Or do they work to feed anxiety and depression?
What are the Stories You Tell Yourself?
Have you ever reflected on the stories you tell yourself about your own life? If you think about the stories or narratives that have defined you, and that have set the tone for your life, what are they? Is there a story that you can think of from your life that is “pure you”?
If you’re like most of us, there will likely be a collage of stories. Some of these will feel good and are enlivening or empowering. Some of them may be stories of sadness, defeat or shame. Are there any “threads” or themes that run through all these stories, that connect them, and that may point toward a deeper and underlying story?
One way of looking at the myths of gods, goddesses and heroes of old is that they capture some element of our own individual story. They show who we most basically are, and what the human story is most fundamentally about. The same may be said of fairy tales, and even of modern day comic book heroes like “Batman”, “Spiderman” or “Wonder Woman”!
Embedded in Debilitating Stories
Sometimes it’s easy to get locked into stories that make us seem small and that are defeatist. Or we can just completely deny that we have a story. Sometimes we can end up sharing the sentiment that Shakespeare puts in the mouth of MacBeth:
Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing [italics mine].
Yet the drive to find meaning in our lives is profound and fundamental. Something deep within us seeks to find and enter into the central story of our lives. This drive is at the heart of human religion, philosophy, literature and drama.
The anthropologist Clifford Geertz says that humans are ‘symbolizing, conceptualizing, meaning-seeking’ animals. In our species, he says, ‘the drive to make sense out of our experience, to give it form and order, is evidently as real and as pressing as the more familiar biological needs.
Robert Fulford, The Triumph of Narrative
The drive to make sense of our experience is as urgent as Geertz and Fulford assert that it is. That is at the root of our search for our personal myth.
Toward Your Personal Mythology
Yet the story of our lives is not something that we can just diligently work on and arrive at. It is something that emerges from the whole of our living, and from the dialogue between our conscious and unconscious selves. Yet it’s only when we actually focus on, and seek to understand our lives, that the true sense of our personal myth will emerge. Often, work with a supportive jungian can facilitate the process, and a sense of our own deepest story starts to emerge.
With very best wishes for your personal journey,
© 2023 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario