Stories We Tell Ourselves: CBT

A flashback from high school:  I am in tenth grade French class.  My teacher beacons me to the hallway.  There are 2 chairs in this empty, forlorn space;  it is an uninviting environment for effective language acquisition.  She begins the a-e-i-o-u chant and invites me to repeat it.  The more I repeat the vowels, the higher her voice becomes in response. Clearly, she is unimpressed by my vowel pronunciation!  My heart beats quickly.  My palms become sweaty.  At that moment, I create a new story:  I tell myself that I am unable to pronounce vowels in other languages.  Guess what?  From that moment on, seemingly everything in French class confirms my story.  Not surprisingly, this is my final course in French as a Second Language.

Fast forward about 30 years to the present day.  My quest to build new neuropathways in response to my trauma has lead me to an introductory Hebrew class.  We are taking turns reading some words with the Hebrew vowels patach, kamatz, segol, etc.  At my turn, the teacher declares that it is my vowel pronunciation that is causing me difficulty.  Oh nooooo!  My heart starts beating quickly.  My palms become sweaty.  The old story connected with my grade ten language experience races through my mind.  Shockingly, it combines with the present-day trauma as I feel the pain in my jaw and the fog in my brain. My old story has now intertwined with my new story!  Yet then, my teacher compassionately smiles at me and starts to gently demonstrate how to make the sounds. The energy of the room is supportive.  My teacher declares, “Trust the Hebrew letters.  They will give you the right answer.”   I relax a little, lay down my ever-present perfectionism,  gently push through the physical pain, and, with assistance of a brilliant educator, I lean into Hebrew vowel pronunciation.  In that moment, not only did a past story dissolve but I felt a little safer in my own world. Safety and trust. Safety and trust.

One of the biggest stories that trauma implants in the neuropathways is that everything/everyone/every situation in your world is now unsafe.  As a result, trusting is excruciatingly difficult.   This is where Cognitive Behavioural Therapy plays a magnificent role.  Simply speaking, CBT encourages us to first identify the stories that we tell ourselves, especially the ones that are not life or health affirming.  Once we identify our beliefs (without judgement), we are free to change our stories and, as I call it, gently “redefine” our lives.

On one hand, it is surprising that I have found safety and trust in a Hebrew language class.  Yet, on second glance, it is inevitable that I gently find safety and trust in everything/everyone/every situation, for as I redefine my trauma, I redefine my world.

Redefinition #8

Just for this moment, I know that I am safe


I open my arms to receive the supportive people, places and situations that life has just for me.


I am brilliant.

I am loved, and, most of all,

I am worthy to live and breathe in my own safe world of my creation.

And so it is.

Thank you to Lisa Sharpe for the beautiful header.

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