Someone here recommended Crucial Conversations and it recently became available from my library. It’s a really incredible book about how to best execute the important exchanges in your life, especially the ones that bet derailed because emotions run high.
In the sections about emotions the authors talk about where those emotions come from. Why do some people react to a situation one way (with calm introspection) while another person reacts differently (lashing out in anger)? The answer is obviously emotional response, but what causes the opposite responses?
The answer? Stories. It’s the stories we tell ourselves, almost instantaneously, that set us on a path toward righteous indignation or understand. These stories are integrated into our path to action so blindingly fast that we aren’t usually aware of them, or we’re not aware that they are stories–stories we fabricated–and take them as truth.
I have found this whole idea of stories really fascinating. I had never articulated the question of why I become so emotional so quickly, of where my negative reactions originate, but as soon as it was articulated for me I recognized its value. If I can start identifying my stories, even after I’ve told them, hopefully some day I can be more present in the spinning of them. This could totally change my life.
I read about “my stories,” as I’ve come to call them (yes I watched soap operas once), a few days after I wrote the post about hitting my daughter. I’ve been identifying my stories surrounding that incident, and our need for therapy, ever since. I’m getting better at recognizing that the way I’m narrating something in my head is not necessarily the truth. There are other ways one could think about all of this, more positive, empowering ways.
I’ve tried to tell myself those stories. I’ve thought about what others–mostly you all–would say to me if I wrote a post about it (like I did yesterday) and I imagined what you would say (all the things you said yesterday). I see those stories (the ones where I’m being proactive in supporting myself and my daughter) and recognize that they are valid, but I can’t seem to appropriate them. I can’t seem to wipe away my story (that I’m a failure) and insert the more positive stories in its place.
My story makes me feel hopeless and overwhelmed. It makes me feel isolated and alone. It’s not a good story. I don’t want this story determining my emotional reaction. I want the other story. The one where I’m being proactive and supportive of myself and my daughter. I want to embrace the story where going to therapy is not only de-stigmatized, but celebrated. I WANT THAT STORY. But I can’t seem to make it mine. The other story keeps seeping in, a corrosive poison that disintegrates the positive story and hardens into something negative.
It’s really starting to piss me off.
I’ve been watching for my stories in all the areas of my life, and what I’ve noticed as been truly enlightening.
Telling negative stories, it seems, is my forte. I’m good at it. Really, really good at it. Exceedingly good at it. I’m the many-times gold medal winner at telling negative stories. It’s pretty much all I do.
How did I get this way? How did I become a person who tells unnecessarily negative stories to herself so she can feel bad? When did I get sucked so deeply into a spiral of shame and guilt and anger that I can’t claw myself out, even when I’m aware of it spinning all around me?
I didn’t learn it from my parents. I didn’t get it from my friends. I want to say depression, I keep circling back to that origin story, but I’m not sure it’s accurate. Depression definitely warps your thinking, spins stories of worthlessness and despair. I wonder if depression went in and corrupted the mechanism of my story-making, damaging the foundations upon which all my stories are written.
It could be depression, it could just be who I am. I’ll never really know where one starts and the other ends, but I suppose that ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Where these defeatist stories come from isn’t what’s important. What is important is figuring out how to rewrite them with a more positive slant.
My stories are a debilitating force in my life. My stories tell me that my husband would do x, y and z if he really loved me and so I feel resentment toward him, or that my daughter struggles because I fail her in some way and so I feel like a failure as a parent. I will be working really hard to change them. If I can manage that, it will improve every aspect of my life, especially my marriage and my attempts at parenting. So I keep working on it. Every day. And I have hope that over time, I will be able to change the stories I tell, and with them the emotional responses that follow.
Have you ever thought about the stories you tell? Are the generally positive or negative? Have you ever worked to change them?