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The story in our heads

When life throws things at us, we try hard to make sense of the chaos.  This is especially true in our relationships, both at home and elsewhere.  We have interactions, we pick up signals, things just happen, and in an effort to make sense of it all, we tell ourselves stories.  As author Brene Brown points out in a great article in Oprah magazine, these stories often aren’t true, but we don’t recognize that.

For instance, if my husband makes a remark that seems critical, I may tell myself a story that “he thinks I’m worthless”.  If a co-worker somehow pushes my buttons, I may decide “she really dislikes me”.  These stories generally run on a theme, like “I can never do it right”,  or “I’m not good enough”, or any number of self-beliefs that we have grown up with.  They’re generally false, always non-productive, and can keep us stuck in old patterns in so many important areas of our lives.

In the article, Brene Brown offers a method to start “un-learning” these old beliefs.  Here they are summarized:

  • Engage with your feelings.  By this she means, check in with your body and just notice what’s going.  Your stomach may be tight, your fists may be clenched, maybe your mind is racing.
  • Get curious about the story behind the feelings.  What is going on behind all this?  What just happened that set this off?  Why am I reacting this way?  Is there an emotion behind it (like hurt behind anger)?
  • Write it down.  The suggestion is to literally fill in the following sentences, or any others that may apply.  What’s interesting is that the following sentences end up reading very much like a session of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) or EMDR (a trauma processing technique).

The story I’m making up…
My emotions…
My thinking…
My body…
My beliefs…
My actions..

  • Then ask yourself some hard questions:

What are the facts, and what are my assumptions?

What do I need to know about the others involved?

What am I really feeling?  What part did I play?

This is not an easy process, and it may take some time to learn and really put to use.  If you find yourself in these situations often, repetitively with a certain, and/or can’t seem to get a handle on it on your own, it may be a good time to ask for some feedback in a therapy session.

Regardless, recognizing that we are telling ourselves stories that aren’t really true, and learning how to change that, is well worth the time and effort.

 

 

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