“Nothing in the world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
When is the last time you said ‘he made me so mad! He never respects me, I’m probably better off without him around.’
Or ‘I can’t believe she is making me feel guilty again. She is such a bully, I’m going to stay and watch TV in the basement instead of going up for dinner, just to get her back.’
Last night? An hour ago?
Most of us tell ourselves these types of stories all the time. We provide a rationale, an excuse, for our own behaviour. We tell a story, and then we have feelings about that story, and that leads to our actions.
So the question is, what story are we telling ourselves?
This is not always an easy question to answer. When something happens, we are instantly stringing stories together in our mind, and the emotions surface so quickly, it can feel like we have no other choice. However, if it is the story that leads to our feelings, then that is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
Let’s say, for instance, that it is your spouses turn to do the dishes. This is a fact. Then, let’s say, you go into the kitchen at 9pm and the dishes are still not done. This is also a fact. It is an agreement you have with your spouse that whoever’s turn to do the dishes, they get washed before you sit down to enjoy your evening activities. So this is a fact also.
So now the facts are all there, it was their turn to do the dishes, and they have gone off somewhere for the evening without doing them. Now what?
Usually our response is something like, “if they really loved and respected me, they would have done the dishes already. They are just lazy and don’t care about our relationship at all.”
Do you see where the story has come in here? We have taken the facts and made a meaning of them. We have created a story about the fact that our partner does not love us, and isn’t interested in the relationship.
Next, what usually happens is something like this. We storm downstairs to the basement, all riled up and explode at our partner, “Why didn’t you do the dishes! You are such a selfish person, you don’t respect me or this relationship at all!”
I’m sure you can imagine where this is going…. We have all been there. We are hot and bothered, feeling angry and disrespected, and instead of having a nice evening that we wanted with our partner, we now are in a full on war. Not relaxing or peaceful at all.
So how did this happen and what could we have done differently?
The story is the key place where we actually have the power to change things. The facts remain the same, the dishes weren’t done, and our partner has gone somewhere else. Perhaps they felt sick? Maybe one of the kids needed some emergency science project help? They might have gone downstairs to deal with a leaky hot water tank!
The point is, there could be many explanations for the same facts. We could tell ourselves a different story, or even better, be curious to find out what the actual reason is, before we jump to conclusions and get angry. Save ourselves a few hours of anger and resentment and perhaps leave an opening for our spouse to explain what was the real reason they left the dishes.
This ability to catch the stories we tell ourselves, and circumvent the emotions that inevitably arise around these stories, is truly what gives us power. We don’t have to be slaves to these same stories. We can open up space to see events unfold, without immediately adding meaning.
Relationships can help us grow in this way, by inviting us to entertain the possibility of other stories, other meanings, things we may not have considered or thought of before. Relationships can help us expand our understanding of ourselves and others.
This process of seeing or hearing facts, telling a story, having feelings and acting on them, is one I work on with clients in almost every case. It is profoundly enlightening to unravel our habitual responses and look at things in a new way.
Check out my website www.pleasureforhealth.com and get in touch. I look forward to assisting you on your journey to self empowerment.