The Stories We Tell

I had a drink with my closest friend on Friday night.

Judith is the happiest person I know. I don’t mean she’s bouncy and perky in an annoying way. She’s just deeply, firmly, contented. And she radiates that contentment in a way that always makes you feel better for just being with her.

She told me that, a few days earlier, she had experienced an epiphany . She realized that the reason she is so happy is that she doesn’t want anything that she doesn’t already have.

She has kids who have turned out OK, a husband she loves, good friends, and a nice house.

None of it is perfect, she was quick to say. Her kids aren’t top of their class, her husband is grumpy sometimes and doesn’t do enough around the house, and her home is nothing fancy. But she is content with it all anyway and that, she believes, is the key.

I think she’s right.

My lovely therapist Mandy is making me aware of the stories I tell myself, and – more important – she’s making me understand how those stories affect everything about my life.

Take Judith as an example. She just rolls her eyes at her husband’s laziness around the house and his grumpy temperament, focuses on the things she does love about him, and gets on with being happy.

But what if she couldn’t just let it go? What if she interpreted his grumpiness and his laziness as a reflection of how much he loved her? And what if she told herself that it was her fault (if only she was better, prettier, funnier, or sexier, he would act differently)?

If she did that, she’d start to feel sad. And the sadness would feed itself – because each time he was grumpy, she would take it personally and then she would tell herself it was her fault because she wasn’t better, prettier etc. etc. So my happy friend would become sad. And yet the circumstances of her life wouldn’t be any different than they are now. She would just be telling herself a different story.

My situation is nothing like Judith’s. My problems are different problems. But the model is the same: we are the stories we tell ourselves.

Having realized this, I’m trying to figure out how to tell myself a different story. The one I’ve been telling is so deeply ingrained that I think this may take some time.

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13 thoughts on “The Stories We Tell

  1. thebigshedart

    Oh so true! I’m reading a gentle introduction to some of the thinking behind buddhism at the moment, and it says something very similar. Bad things happen. From real disasters to just not particularly good things. But when we dwell on them, analyse them, apportion blame, get angry, we just give them far more power, make them far worse. Worse still if we’re blaming and analysing ourselves! I like your drawing today, and your choice of colours. It looks like it should be called “Eye Opener”. 🙂

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    1. Louise Post author

      I’ve read a lot about buddhism too – I think this is why this dawned on me – and it makes so much sense. Very hard to implement though!

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    1. Louise Post author

      It seems so obvious once you realize it but I had always thought those stories in my head were facts. Ha!

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    1. Louise Post author

      You’re welcome Georgiana – if you can find a way to truly apply it to yourself and then let the reality of it sink in, it can help a lot.

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  2. merjet

    All true and lovely sentiment but what if there was something truly terrible in one’s life and to make oneself happy a delusional story was created to be in denial of facts…that CAN happen too. Careful.
    “Oh, he’s mean and drunk all the time and embarrasses me in public but he’s nice to me at home 80% of the time” or “she gossips and cuts people up but she makes good money, she’s a great cook and gives me most of what I need” etc.

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    1. Louise Post author

      See, I’m not so much talking about the surface stories like those, but the stories that run deeper. So, to riff of your example, the story might go: “he’s mean and drunk all the time and embarrasses me in public… and he wouldn’t do that if I wasn’t so worthless.” Once a person stops telling that story in their head, they’d realize they DO have worth and once they realize that, there’d be no need to put up with the boorish man making their life hell.

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  3. terriheal

    Well said. There are truths in what you say & people can interpret it many ways. Cheers to you for having the conversation with yourself (& your friend /therapist) and also having the courage to share your vulnerabilities with us ☺

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