Each of us is living our own grand story. As happens in all excellent tales, each of our stories is populated by a hero and a villain, and is unfolding based on the drama that takes place as these two entities face off with each other.
The secret in all great stories is that the hero and the villain are the same person. We don’t think this is true at first. Darth Vader seems like a pretty real villain. The White Walkers are scary as crap. The Big Bad Wolf really did huff and puff and blow the house down. So how are these not the true villains of the story?
While these antagonists do wreak havoc and create major obstacles that must be overcome, they are not where the biggest danger in the story lies. The real threat lies within the main character, who has the potential to be both the true hero and the true villain of the story.
This is true for us as well. We are the main characters in our stories, and the real battle taking place is the one that happens inside us. Our true enemy isn’t the sex addiction, or the past traumas that have occurred, or the spouse who has hurt us, or the difficult life circumstance that is unfolding.
Neither the hero nor the villain is found in other people, things, or circumstances. Instead, they both lie within our hearts, come to life, and are operationalized through the choices we make. The most important battle is the one that takes place inside us and is about whether we will make the choices that will allow us to be the heroes of our own stories, or whether we will choose to give in, become victims, or even become offenders ourselves.
When we realize that the most pivotal issue facing us is not external, but internal, it creates enormous, life-giving freedom. We are given the ultimate liberty to choose how we will meet the moment that we are facing, even if it is an unchosen and unwelcome moment.
Will we meet it by capitulating to the villain within? The villain is the shame, self-loathing, despair, and helplessness to which we give power if we latch on and believe the lies and half-truths they promote. Lies about who we are, and lies about who others are. These beliefs then become excuses for the choices we make. Choices to adopt a victim mentality, to rage against or hurt others, to indulge an addiction or to isolate, stop all self-care, throw up our hands and just say “screw it.” The villain gives in to hopelessness and despair, and then translates that into justification, rationalization, and entitlement.
If the villain operates out of shame and despair, the hero operates out of hope. The hero part of us holds the deep knowledge that no matter how bad the situation, we still have our ultimate freedom as human beings – the freedom to choose our response. To meet the worst with the very best we can muster. The hero refuses to give their power away to another person or situation. Instead, the hero claims their personal power, and engages life from there.
The hero part of us has courage, dignity, and operates from inherent worth. Even when in great pain and confusion, the hero is asking, “What is the best way forward for me? Who can help me? What do I need? How do I want to handle this? What is best for those I love? What allows me to be the best version of myself in these circumstances?” The hero does not seek perfection, but instead, offers the grace that comes with doing the best one can in any given moment.
It can be so easy to get bogged down in helplessness, and to believe that we are at the mercy of what is happening to us. But if we can, just for a second, catch that glimmer of truth. The truth that we get to choose who we want to be, and how we want to handle things. That we are actually incredibly powerful and able. Just that glimmer of hope can alter the landscape and create opportunities and openings to do things differently. And when we operate from this place of personal empowerment, we truly are the heroes of our own stories.