The Power of Our Personal Myths

28 04 2010

Myths are stories that help us make meaning in the world. They give us a framework by which we can organize information into systems. Myths can be captivatingly sad, or powerfully funny, and yet the way the story weaves into our personal lives has great meaning.  Serious study has been given to learning and discovering the power of myths from many cultures and generations.  Universal truths about the nature of the human condition have been derived from these stories.  Would it surprise you that we all have our own internal myths learned in our family? These myths hold just as much power, if not more, than those ancient stories passed down through the ages.

Both positively and negatively, family myths shape and influence the way we are in the world today.  They encourage us to set up rules to follow and beliefs to adopt that shape our view of the world and ourselves.  These myths are experienced, shared, and internalized on a daily basis. Like a fish to water, the resulting rules and beliefs are difficult to distinguish without deeper exploration.  For example, one of my family myths is the time when I was 10 years old and I cut my foot on sharp barnacles while jumping into a creek behind our beach house rental in South Carolina. Spending the first few hours of vacation in the emergency room getting stitches significantly changed the tone of the trip for me.  Below are a few of the rules and beliefs I was able to identify:


Rule 1: Don’t take chances. Look before you leap, gather as much information as possible before acting.  I believed by following this rule I would reduce the chance of getting hurt in the future.

Rule 2: Don’t be impulsive- doing so is inconvenient and only makes messes that mom and dad will have to clean up.  I came to believe that people resent me and find me to be an inconvenience.

Rule 3: Play small and be nice.  No one wants to be around impulsive and inconvenient kids. I came to believe that if I was too much then I would get rejected and abandoned.


The power of a myth lies in its telling and re-telling. The above rules and beliefs had been verbally and non-verbally communicated in my family, in school, and throughout my life. Sure, there are valuable lessons we need to learn as children, such as, “Look twice before crossing the road.” However, we must be mindful of the fact that those lessons can become generalized and direct our entire life. What is the difference between being careful and living your life refusing to take risks because you are afraid to make a mistake or get hurt?


I am discovering that my family myths have had a silent but deadly influence on my life. I play it safe and do not take risks in order to insure I don’t inconvenience others or risk getting hurt myself.  I am examining and evaluating which rules are working for me and which ones are not.  By paying attention to and cataloguing my library of family myths, I am better able to see where my mistaken rules and beliefs are operating.  With the feedback and support of trusted friends I can more readily live in hope, compassion, a sense of abundance, community and grace rather than seeing the world as dangerous, judgmental, unforgiving and intolerant.


What are some of the myths which have shaped your view of yourself, others and the God? What are the rules which reflect the values communicated by your family myths? Let’s get free from the chains which bind us and keep us from becoming our most Christ-like selves!




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