Bedtime Stories: Changing the Inner Narrative (Part 1)

Unresolved trauma needs resolving. Simple as. But we don’t have to drag ourselves down each and every time with the same negative thought spirals. We can’t control much, but we can control our inner narrative. Here is Part 1- an introduction into why we need to do the inner work as parents.

“Can you tell me one last story please please please?” Cue *puppy eyes*.

When we are deciding on what story to tell our children before they (hopefully) drift off, what sort of thing do we have in mind? Ideally , something light, something with a happy ending, something enjoyable and something short (I did say ideally). We all know that come bedtime, suddenly our children decide they want to read the entire Britannica in one sitting. Very convenient (!)

And what is every parent’s hope? Besides that this really is the absolutely LAST page of the night..? That the story we tell our child will help them drift off to dreamland peacefully, go to sleep on a positive note, and maybe even help them learn something from the moral of the story.

Now, imagine if just before they slept, we told our child a story in which they were simultaneously the helpless victim of endless suffering and also the evil villain responsible for their own pain. One with no happy ending in sight, and one where everybody but them was living happily ever after? A grim tale indeed. Imagine you did this most nights, some mornings and during the daytime too. The damage it would cause to how they perceive themselves and the world around them would be detrimental.

No, we would never do that to our children.

So, why do we do it to ourselves?

Which stories do we tell ourselves day in and day out? Speckled with self-doubt, resentment, pain, suffering, and undertones of bitterness, cynicism and unresolved rage, these narratives we repeat over and over- they’re toxic. They’re draining. They are downright exhausting.

You may ask: why do we ruminate on the past so much? Often, our brain is trying to process and resolve unresolved trauma and suffering by reliving, replaying and deconstructing and then reconstructing those salient moments of pain and hurt. The body isn’t always able to differentiate between a threat in the present versus a past threat the mind is reliving. Therefore, the body instinctively activates our stress response (fight, flight, freeze or fane) and that’s why we may be absolutely fine humming calmly whilst washing the dishes, and the next minute we are suddenly banging the dishes against the kitchen sink with our faces feeling hotter than the water we are washing up with, and our heart pounding so hard our foreheads feel like they may rip open.

Unresolved trauma needs resolving. Simple as. But we don’t have to drag ourselves down each and every time with the same negative thought spirals. We can’t control much, but we can control our inner narrative.

This takes a lot of inner work, and can take a very long time to achieve especially if it’s the only role you’ve known in the play of life ; the only one you’ve ever seen performed (modelling behaviour- usually by primary caregivers), the only one you’ve rehearsed (conditioning by early experiences and later experiences), and the only one you think you can play (external expectations, manipulation by others and societal or cultural norms).

But, I want to tell you that you can learn to rewrite the play script and change the lines for yourself. With some professional help if need be (I think EVERYBODY needs therapy), raw, radical honesty, an open mind, and lots of self-compassion, you can do it.

Remember, the plays we perform and live in front of our children are the same ones they will learn and play out in their own lives, and that is how intergenerational trauma continues.
Allah says in the 13th chapter of the Holy Quran, Surah Ar-Rad, Verse 11:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ

Surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition

Let’s start small with changing the bedtime stories we tell ourselves. Let’s rewrite the narrative.

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