False Narratives We Tell Ourselves as Women

false narratives women

False narratives are a part of your daily life and the crazy thing is you may not even know it. While both men and women feel the pressure of these false narratives, a recent APA survey found that women are more likely to report feeling overwhelmed by societal pressure to maintain excellence in their homes, careers, relationships, and physical traits than men.

False narratives drive that unattainable expectation to look, be, act, or live a certain way. As a result, women tend to have the added pressure of heavier expectations that weigh on our shoulders.

I have certainly felt this in my role as a working mom. I have very high expectations for myself at work and also very high expectations for myself as a mom. It can be stressful to live up to my own expectations if I’m not careful.

Uncovering my false narratives around work and motherhood has been incredibly helpful for me and I want to encourage you to challenge those beliefs and rewrite the story to let go of the expectations too—even if only a little bit. To do so, you must first understand what false narratives are and how they can manifest in your life. Then we’ll get into some steps you can take to shift those false narratives.

What “False Narrative” Means

A false narrative refers to a story or belief that we internalize, often unintentionally, from things other people say or do or experiences we have. According to neuroscientist Anil K. Seth, your brain takes in sensory input from your environments, cultures, biases, or experiences in order to create meaning and construct your own version of reality. This starts at birth and lasts your entire life. 

For example, as a young toddler, you as a girl might be told or shown through societal cues that being small is cute and makes you worthy of attention and adoration. Older adults might say things like, “Oh, look at that skinny minnie! So cute!” Their intention is not to make you believe that being small makes you worthy of love and praise, but that’s what the belief becomes.

As you might imagine, these ingrained stories can become the lens through which you perceive yourself and your place in this world. You learn them, take them to be true, and then build your life around them. 

Here’s the thing that’s really problematic: you can believe a false narrative whether or not it has any factual basis. Over time, believing these false stories about yourself can harm your sense of worth, erode self-trust, and make life exhausting as you try to meet the unrealistic beauty standards of a woman in our world today.

The Many Ways False Narratives Show Up in Your Life

False narratives influence every area of your life, from how you function in the workplace to the way you interact in your relationships or view your external appearance. Here are a few examples of false narratives that women can be prone to believe. I bet more than one of these rings true for you—I know some of them did, and still do, for me:

  • I must have the “perfect” body with a flat stomach, toned muscles, and no cellulite. 
  • I need to excel in all my various roles (home, career, family) without asking for help.
  • I should put others’ wants or needs before mine, even if this violates my boundaries.
  • I cannot claim too much space for myself—I need to remain as small as I possibly can.
  • I am a failure if I haven’t become a wife and mother by the time I reach a certain age.
  • I have to conform to society’s definition of “beautiful” (size, shape, weight, skin tone).
  • I must look calm and keep a smile on my face, even if I feel completely overwhelmed.
  • I should be grateful just to earn an income—I’m not worthy of that raise or promotion.
  • I am too much for others to handle, but also not enough to deserve their acceptance.

Why Women Are Susceptible to False Narratives

It’s important to note that both men and women can feel pressure to conform and to live up to a specific set of expectations. We all have the potential to digest harmful beliefs and script them into false narratives around which we orient our lives. However, research shows the messages that men and women receive are starkly different. 

According to a recent study in the Journal of Health Monitoring, the expectation to maintain “physical attractiveness” is instilled in girls from an early age, with emphasis on the Western ideals of “feminine slimness.” This can reduce self-esteem and increase rates of body dissatisfaction as girls reach adolescence and eventually adulthood. Whereas in boys, the effects of poor body image will often decrease with age. I mean… wow. 

This is just one example of how we as women are socialized to view ourselves—and how women conform to sociocultural messages. As a result, we may abandon the innate self-trust within and let the false narratives drive the car. Without even realizing, you compromise your well-being and happiness, unable to truly follow your own path. 

Real-World Examples of False Narratives

The most important lesson here is this: you are not powerless against false narratives. The first step to re-writing it is to understand where and how these false narratives are showing up in your life. Only then can you take the wheel and start paving a path that’s actually true to you.

I also want to remind you that it doesn’t matter how old you are. You can always shift these narratives, whether you’re 8 or 80—the principles of neuroplasticity tell us so!

Body Image and Beauty Ideals

Women face a constant barrage of unrealistic beauty ideals. Western society tends to favor a youthful appearance with an able body, a thin frame, and light skin. As such, those who don’t exist within this narrow mold can internalize a false narrative that their bodies are inherently flawed. 

In a survey of 4,250 women, 60 percent agree that how they feel about themselves is impacted by their weight, size, or shape. Even more concerning, 17 percent of these women would take years off their lives in exchange for the “perfect” body. Statistics like this are what empower me as the leader of Lindywell—we must change this!

Rewrite this Narrative

Start here: Why Your Self-Love Mantras Aren’t Working (And How to Fix Them)

This blog post, written by Kiesha, our Head of Breathwork and Somatic Programs, is a beautiful starting place for you to rewrite false narratives around your body image. Kiesha shares her “secret sauce” for tapping into what feels true to you and using that to shift your beliefs about yourself.

Cultural Gender Stereotypes

Even in our modern society, gender norms can still impact how we as women perceive our roles. For example, as a young girl you might be told or shown through societal cues that playing with trucks or building blocks is not for girls, but rather for boys. This turns into a false narrative that limits what you explore in the world while also reinforcing cultural gender stereotypes and roles. 

Long-term, these types of false narratives contribute to a lack of representation and participation of women in fields such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or leadership roles, perpetuating gender inequality.

Rewrite this Narrative

Start here: Mindful vs. MindFULL: How to Shift Out of Anxiety and into Calm

While there are so many ways to approach this false narrative, getting mindful is one that I strongly believe in. Check out the blog post above to learn about how all these narratives and expectations can keep you mindFULL and why shifting to a more mindful way of living can support decision-making, confidence, adaptability and more—all qualities needed to rewrite this narrative.

Personal or Career Expectations

Women are often sold the notion that they can have it all: an exceptional family, a successful career, and an impeccable home. Most of us have a “superwoman” in our lives—maybe you even consider yourself to be that superwoman. This image is what we’re told (either directly or indirectly) to strive for. 

Women in predominantly male careers, however, report overworking to prove their capabilities, which can lead to high stress, poor mental health, and early burnout. Women are also about 50 percent more likely to be responsible for household chores than men.

For me, it can be hard to prioritize family in the way that I want to, and keep up with the demands of an evolving career.  I’ve had to be very intentional to uncover which false narratives have kept me stuck and also get very clear on my priorities. The reality is that when I choose to prioritize one thing, something else may get deprioritized.  

These lofty expectations can convince all of us that our worth is based solely on performance and if we don’t “do it all” we’re failing. We deserve to honor our boundaries and recharge our batteries—to just be human. 

Rewrite this Narrative

Start here: How to Embrace Progress Over Perfection With the Six Principles of Pilates

One of the best ways to rewrite this false narrative is to start letting go of the idea that you need to be perfect. I know this is a hard one (it’s been a long and on-going journey for me too!), but I want to help you get there. Start with the blog post above about how the way we approach Pilates can be used in your life too. You don’t have to be on the mat to embrace these values, put them into practice, and see a change in your life.

Love and Family Relationships

As women, we’re biologically more nurturing than men. For some of us, this can lead to being more relational and connected to the people in our lives. We love our friends, we cherish our partners, we would do anything for our children and fur babies. But sometimes we become so focused on those relationships that we forget to nurture ourselves. 

A recent YouGov survey found that 68 percent of women elevate others’ needs at the expense of their own, and 55 percent have a hard time saying, “no,” if another person asks them for something. (This one is SO hard for me!) 

Relationships enrich our lives, but taking care of ourselves matters too. Whether a relationship is romantic or platonic, it’s not sustainable to pour so much time and energy into someone else without also making sure our needs are met.

Rewrite this Narrative

Start here: Overcome Toxic Guilt: Strategies for Letting Go

Toxic guilt spins a false narrative that we must always prioritize our loved ones at the detriment to our own emotions, needs, wants, or boundaries. However, when we extend ourselves the same attention we freely give to others, we’re more capable of showing up for our friends and family. Check out the blog post above to learn more about how toxic guilt is showing up in your life and how you can start to release it to live a happier, less stressful life.

Turn The False Narrative into YOUR Narrative

Lindywell was born out of my desire to empower women to take control of their health and life. If you’re ready to change those false narratives, join our community of women from around the world who are committed to mindful movement, grace over guilt, and self-compassion. 

Start your free trial to get instant access to this community, plus 300+ Pilates workouts, dozens of guided breathwork sessions, and more. The more you hit your mat and prioritize your mind-body connection, the easier it will be to create a positive narrative that will leave you feeling strong, resistant, and filled with grace over guilt.

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2 thoughts on “False Narratives We Tell Ourselves as Women”

  1. Thank you for your honest, vulnerable leadership Robin. I initially signed up for Lindywell during Covid which also corresponded with a one of the most challenging seasons of my life. I knew that I was holding so much stress in my body and I knew that I needed an easily accessible, convenient and realistic exercise routine to cope with daily challenges and various changes in life. With the help of a good friend, who also joined the sisterhood, we have encouraged each other and provided support and accountability to get on the mat daily (or as often as we can). A catalogue of Pilates workouts would have been enough. However, I am thankful for each new investment you make in your own life Robin and also amazed at the amount of BONUS material and supports that Lindywell continues to offer – like this latest email about False Narratives. Signing up for Lindywell has been one of the best investments in my personal health and wellbeing. Ironically, I almost didn’t sign-up because of false narratives. I believed the lie that I wasn’t worth it and there were more important things to spend my money on, including my children. Yet, it is actually through caring for my needs that I am indirectly modeling health and wellness, which is one of the best ways to care for our family. My time on the mat is very precious and essential for me and my overall wellbeing (especially now with the addition of the prompt to add daily breathwork). Thank you Robin and the entire team for continually going above and beyond in working together as a team and together offering what you are best at. Collectively you are also modeling that alone we don’t have to be Superhuman! We just get to be the best us we can, collectively, one day at a time! Thank you! XOXO

    1. WOW, Kelly! Thank you so much for sharing. We love hearing the difference that Lindywell has made for you but, more importantly, what a powerful testament of what can happen when you make yourself a priority and take the time to care for yourself! The ripple effect is REAL! We are cheering both you and your friend on on your continued journeys, both on and off your mats!

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