Central to narrative therapy is the principle that through gaining perspective on our self story and the story of our relationships with others, we open up the possibility of effecting change in our lives through "restorying" ourselves. Stories are what we tell ourselves about ourselves and our experiences. They may not be the whole truth. The Fifth Agreement is the latest book by Don Miguel Ruiz, author of the best selling book, The Four Agreements, offering with his characteristic clarity and simplicity insight into the role of belief in perception and self-understanding.


Ever recalled a past occurrence with someone and found that they remember it totally differently?  How can our experiences of the same thing be so different? The answer to that question involves the role that attention and belief play in human perception, affecting not only our experience of events but also our personality and how we thing about and respond to life's challenges. The diversity of subjective experience would not be problematic if we always recognized it as such. Alas we often take our subjective impressions as fact. These impressions are conditioned by our prior experience which guide our attention. Every time an impression from a prior experience 'successfully' helps us understand the present, our belief in the truth of that prior impression is reinforced and other possibilities have less chance of getting mental air time. We see what we are prepared to recognize. We see what we believe rather than believe what we see.  A portrait of the divergence of perception that can develop even between people who think they understand each other is provided in Irvin Yalom's 1991 monograph  Every Day Gets a Little Closer: A Twice-Told Therapy.

The most elaborated of these belief systems that we take as truth is the story we belief about ourselves. It is an accumulation of what we have been told about ourselves by others and reinforced by retelling it to ourselves in our internal dialogue and in interpreting our interactions with others. This story informs what we say about ourselves to others and we repeat it over and over in our thoughts, bolstering, elaborating, justifying and protecting it from contradiction. We use our self story to understand our experiences, our place in events and to anchor our identity. We are very invested in our story. We are proud of it (sometimes) but even if we are not, we still resist attacks on it. Without it, we fear we might not know who we are.

But our self story is only one of many be could have developed. Through different choices in each transaction in life our story could have been different. If other stories were possible, our self story is an edifice of belief not an edifice of truth.

Much of the stuckness we experience in the difficult areas of our lives stem from our self stories. One source of optimism for clients in therapy is that one finds a new or more complete story for one's life or at least ways to free up the limiting places in the story one has now. Some of the most tenaciously held parts of self stories are the negative and limiting beliefs held about self and others. Understanding where one's story came from and entertaining some of the other possibilities for self belief release the energy that interfere with healthy self-esteem, loosen the hold of destructive patterns, uncomplicate relationships with others and make one able to be at peace in the present.


Ruiz, M. A.; Ruiz, J.L.; Mills, J. (2010) The Fifth Agreement. Amber-Allen Publishing: San Rafael, CA

Irvin D. Yalom, Irvin D. (1991) Every Day Gets a Little Closer: A Twice-Told Therapy.  Basic Books:  New York, NY.