"The story I am making up is..."

When was the last time you jumped to conclusions without all the information? Or made some assumptions based on limited information. I can think of so many times that I have this both in small instances and in larger ones.

For years I thought about storytelling in the context of books and movies- someone writing a story that could then be consumed by their audience. I now have an expanded view of storytelling. We often make up stories about all kinds of things. In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown dedicates an entire chapter to the stories we make up. She says “in the absence of data, we will always make up stories. It’s how we are wired.” We are working to create stories to make things make sense and to help us self-protect.  

These stories that we create, that sometimes have truth in them but sometimes don’t, can have some effects on our lives. It can create internal anxiety. When we make a story up with little facts, it is can be rooted in some sort of feeling like fear or self-doubt. When we make up the story, it allows us to ignore the root cause of that story. Our internal story creation can also shape how you show up with and interact with others. I have found this to be one of the major potential drawbacks of storytelling- when I have made up a story about someone, it often impacts my view of someone and, therefore, how I interact with them. I know for me when I have made up a story about someone it allows me to ignore the root cause of the issue or frustration with that person. At the root of them, our stories allow us to ignore causes of issues and allows us to operate assuming our story is true.

What should you do when you catch yourself in a storytelling cycle that is negatively impacting you and your relationships?

Identify the story

A critical first step is to identify that you are telling yourself a story, but how? Ask yourself what emotions you are experiencing about the thing that you have identified. From there, ask yourself what you know to be true- identify the facts. Since we often create stories with little to no facts, so it is important to go back to the facts (writing down the facts can help).

I am a proponent of trying to call the story out when it feels safe and feasible. I often find myself saying ‘the story I am making up here is…” or “I have made up a story that…” This allows me to put my feelings and thoughts on the table in a way that is less likely to create a confrontation. Addressing an issue this way, in my experience, is a great first step to rewriting the story.

Rewrite the story if you can

I have recently found myself making up stories about people that just aren’t true. I have found myself assuming that others do not have good intentions because of one interaction. In this situation, I had to look for information to change the story so that it can be rewritten and so that I can change the way I address said person. Rewriting the story often starts with our internal narrative associated with that story.

Change your self-talk around the story

Begin to change the story by changing the self-talk associated with the story. So often the stories we have created are rooted in emotion or a feeling. It may be that we don’t think we are good enough, or a fear of loneliness or feelings of betrayal. There is always something underneath the stories. It is important to change how you communicate with yourself about that story. It is often important to change our internal self-talk about the other person or people in the story. In Rising Strong, Brene reminds us that it is helpful to believe that people are doing the best that they can. When I change my internal narrative about people and tell myself that they are doing the best that they can, it changes how I see them, the story I tell myself about them, and how I interact with them. Self-talk can really be a game changer in how we see ourselves and others.  

I would encourage you to start thinking about the stories you tell yourself and see what stories need to be changed. 

Jessica Sharp