We are all storytellers, especially to ourselves. We fill our heads with distorted facts and assumptions that can create a long-term impact on ourselves and our relationships with others. Brene Brown has been a pioneer in this. She talks about a situation with her husband as she swam in a lake in the hill country of Texas. She has told this story in her book, Daring Greatly and in her recent Netflix special. I was derailed recently by a decision a close relative made. I was talking to my coach friend Sandy about it and she said, “Did you see Brene on Netflix?” I said, “Yeah.” Sandy said, “What was your big takeaway?” I didn’t remember. Sandy said, “What is the story you are telling yourself?” The story I was telling myself was that this recent decision was made deliberately to alienate me from the relative. But once I held it up to the light, I realized that this simply wasn’t true. Once I spoke the story, it magically evaporated.
I hear this a lot when I coach folks. “My son doesn’t pick up his room, making me do all the work.” “My coworker isn’t timely with the report because they don’t respect my time.” “My spouse is laughing with that woman because he’s attracted to her and wants to have an affair.” The story we tell ourselves is almost always detrimental to our self-esteem. Our storytelling is demeaning and makes moving forward difficult.
Here are some ideas on how to stop the damage of storytelling:
It’s an illusion
The first thing to realize is that it’s all just one big illusion. Odds are you aren’t telepathic. Most of us aren’t. It’s amazing how often we all attribute motives to folks outside ourselves. “They aren’t returning my calls because they dislike me.” “He didn’t compliment me on my new blouse because he hates it.” “She offered to drive because she doesn’t like the way I drive.” I do this constantly. I make up judgements from other people that have NO basis in fact. At. All. It’s just like a movie when the main character dies. It’s just a movie. No one really died. The same goes for my story in my head. It’s just made up scenery to make the plot seem more sensational. The story you are telling yourself is nothing but an illusion.
Bring it out into the light
As a child, did you think there were monsters under your bed or in your closet? I did. I used to see hundreds of monsters and ghosts in the shadows of my bedroom. Once I turned the light switch on? They were all gone. Shine a light on the shadow that is making the monster. Bring it out into the light. Say the story out loud to a trusted friend or coach. If there is no one available, speak it. Say as Brene does, “The story I’m making up is…” I like that she says “making up” instead of “telling” because it’s so much more obvious that it’s not true. It’s a figment of your imagination. Speak it into the light.
Stand in their shoes
When I am emotionally triggered, I have completely left my prefrontal cortex and have lost any ability to reason. When triggered, it is really hard for me to try and understand where someone else is coming from. I lack empathy. All I see is an offensive attack and I am devoid of understanding. When I can take some time to let the emotions rest and not be triggered, I think about all the possible reasons someone might be seeming to attack me. My son’s room isn’t clean? Homework has piled up and there’s a new love interest in his life. My spouse talking to another woman? She’s his closest friend at work and supported him on a difficult issue at the Project Planning meeting. Client isn’t returning my calls? They are on vacation or are under a tight deadline at work. When I do “Third Entity” (from CRR Global), I physically have the client stand in the virtual place of the person they have a conflict with. Standing in the other person’s place can help clear up assumptions. Try standing in their shoes.
Hold up a mirror
We all bring our own baggage to any situation. Our own biases, cultural and family norms. Toilet seat up or down. Bedroom doors open or closed. “God Bless” or “Bless you” or “Gesundheit.” A lot of our thinking is on auto pilot based on the last ten, twenty, thirty years of our life. You might think someone is rude if they don’t return a phone call in one hour, one day or one week. Personally, I’d rather someone text or email, rather than leave a voicemail. We all walk around with our own parameters. So what assumptions are you bringing to the situation? Those assumptions are working into your storytelling. It’s all made up.
It’s all about holding your thoughts under a microscope and picking it apart. If you’re like me, you’ve been holding on tightly to assumptions and norms for years that probably need to be let go. It’s so easy to hold on tightly to these assumptions and cause long term damage with the ruminations that take place. Perception and storytelling are not reality. Let it go.