Personal Myths: Update the Stories that Drive Your Life ll By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

“Who’s going to marry a woman with three children?!” This was my mom’s incessant angst-driven rant after our father was killed in a tragic farming accident and left her alone to raise us little ones, all under the age of 10.

I could never comprehend her distress. She was a school teacher and had put herself through a nine-month business course so she had ways and means to support herself. Plus she had these awesome kids who needed her. Why would she want or need a man?

Decades later the light dawned. Her personal myth had emerged from that era’s misguided cultural myth, which Betty Friedan first documented in her 1963 book, Feminine Mystique: A woman is only fulfilled and has societal value when she’s married and has children. Women who were truly feminine would not want to work, have an education, or have political opinions, let alone participate in the political arena. Women’s magazines, women’s education, and advertising all contributed to this cultural myth—sanctioned by religion—resulting in widespread unhappiness and depression amongst women (1).

In spite of her accomplishments, my mom believed she was nothing without a husband.

Like a Puppeteer

In their groundbreaking book on personal mythology, Feinstein and Krippner define it as follows (2): “A personal mythology is a constellation of beliefs, feelings, image, and rules—operating largely outside of conscious awareness—that interprets sensations, constructs new explanations, and directs behavior.” This is in opposition to how our Western society tends to view myth: as a lie, an untruth, a falsehood.

Feinstein and Krippner list several guiding personal myths. These include basic ones, such as: “The world is (or is not) safe.” “There is (or is not) enough to go around.” “People are (or are not) trustworthy.” “I am (or am not) a deserving, worthy, human being.”

Others are more specific: A man’s gentle and kindhearted emotions are hidden by images of his father’s machismo. A woman’s mistrust of others may have been family rule. A man whose rebelliousness kept his spirit alive amid childhood tyranny is trapped in pointless and petty power struggles as an adult. The woman who grew up knowing that only the men had power, thus she considers her emotions “bad/wrong” and only logic and rationality as “good/right,” cutting herself off from her vital, life-giving intuitive wisdom.

The Enneagram also reveals unconscious personal myths that the nine types live their lives by. These unconscious myths, along with their rules, operate like an invisible puppeteer, controlling the strings of our reactions to our experiences. For the most part, these stay hidden in the depths of our psyches, our souls.

Who am I? Where am I going?

Why am I going there?

It is a lens that gives meaning to every situation you meet and determines what you will do in it. They speak to the broad concerns of life: Who am I? Where am I going? And why am I going there? In other words, they speak to identity, direction, and purpose. And while similar to a worldview or a world picture, they differ in that a world view is more of a conscious choice. For example, if you are a Catholic or a Buddhist, you will be taught tenants and doctrines that answer the above questions. True, at some point as an adult and taking responsibility for your life, you will need to consciously question that system of belief. A personal mythology, on the other hand, lies unknown and unconscious within our psyches.

Friedan documented a lived-out myth where women had no identity, no direction, and no purpose without a husband and children.

Failing Cultural Myths

Personal myths need to be uncovered, examined, and usually updated. In addition to life’s happenings, such as a partner dying or a job change–we live in an increasingly complicated world.

In past epochs, our personal myths harmonized with our established cultural myths and provided comfort to life’s sorrows and challenges.

But our cultural myths adapt and change slowly, while our current milieu is speeding along with exponential changes. We’re connected globally. At the click of a mouse, we’re exposed to other ways of being. Women have risen to full partnership with men. Technology in all areas, including health, changes daily. What does it mean to be male or female? The media has become our cosmic soup of culture—for good or bad.

Today’s cultural myths feed various societal disorders. Boomers are choosing that they will die with dignity, not living as vegetables hooked up to machines, supporting a health industry that sucks wealth away from families to nursing homes and the medical profession. We’ve created weapons that can annihilate the planet’s occupants. Our burgeoning world population needs to eat, and in the process we’re losing species up to 1,000 times the natural extinction rate annually (3). Our rich country is becoming one where a small number of citizens own most of the wealth, and one in which both younger Americans and the broad middle class are failing to benefit (4). An emergency medical condition can force people to lose their homes. And the cultural myth of liberty and justice for all? Ask black men how that’s working out for them.

Update Your Personal Myths

Through paying attention and using various tools, such as journaling, dreams, rituals, and your imagination you can find your puppeteer and observe how and when he/she pulls your strings. Watch what brings you sorrow, what brings you joy. Notice your anger and look for the deeper passion. Anger’s almost always a secondary emotion to pain, physical and emotional. You can make a conscious pact with your deepest sources of wisdom. You can set healthy boundaries.

The myths of old are unable to address these multitudes of experience and challenges of life unknown to our great-grandparents, and they appear unable to heal the many wounds that come from our society’s disorders. Unfortunately, they manipulate and sway our personal myths.

Cut the strings from failing personal myths. Create new ones and/or update your existing personal myths. Join with others of a similar mythological bent.

Step out on your journey, update your personal myth and in the process you’ll update our culture’s myth!

Notes & Sources:
1.) As has been documented and written of, this cultural myth was particular to mainstream, middle class, white women.
2.) Feinstein, David; and Krippner, Stanley. Personal Mythology: Using Ritual, Dreams, and Imagination to Discover Your Inner Story. Energy Psychology Press/Elite Books. 2008.

About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her spiritual connection at People House and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.