“It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.” ~Tony Robbins
I am always making up stories about what others think of me or what they really meant when they made that comment. And I typically make up the worst case scenario. According to my brain, everyone is mean-spirited and ridiculing me.
This is not an uplifting way to live one’s life. The pessimistic stories I create are generated in part by my low self-esteem, and by convincing myself they’re true, I continue to fuel it. My constantly negative perceptions affect my relationships with others and overall mood in a harmful way.
I recently experienced a huge breakthrough in regard to this aspect of my thought processes. I am a huge fan of Dr. Brené Brown’s work and recently read her newest book Rising Strong. One of my biggest takeaways was this one phrase that will improve your relationships: “The story I’m making up…”
Why We Make Up Stories
As humans, our brains make up stories. We automatically search for meaning. If there is a lack of information, then we will try to fill in that gap.
Studies have shown that we like stories to make sense or fulfill a pattern, and we will use our own experiences as reference for this.
Brown actually says that research shows we get a dopamine hit when we recognize a pattern. Our brains especially like it if the story can give us more insight into how to protect ourselves and secure our survival.
This is why we make up stories to explain why bad things happen. If we know the cause, next time we can plan accordingly to avoid the situation altogether. Unfortunately, even though we honestly believe them to be true, the stories we make up are usually at least somewhat inaccurate.
This is where the phrase, “The story I’m making up…” works to clear things up in our interactions with others.
How to Use It
“The story I’m making up…” can be used in times of struggle or conflict with another person. Perhaps a co-worker quickly changed the subject after you expressed a concern about a project. You can use this phrase to say, “The story I’m making up is that I’m being dismissed because my opinion is not valued.”
Or maybe your significant other flipped on the television when it’s supposed to be date night. You can say, “The story I’m making up is that our relationship is not a priority to you.” It is an effective tool that can be used in family, friend, work, and romantic relationships.
Recently my husband and I were arguing. He shared his feelings with me, which is often challenging for him. Because I know he really appreciates physical affection (and I struggle to give it), I chose to pull him into a hug instead of responding verbally.
The hug did not feel reciprocal as his arms were loosely around me. I was vulnerable when I offered physical affection, and his lackluster embrace registered as a cold shoulder to me. I was feeling very hurt as I told him, “The story I’m making up is that this lifeless hug is an expression of rejection.”
He apologized and explained that he did not intend to reject me; he was just feeling thrown off by my lack of spoken response.
His mind was whirling trying to figure out a sense-making story as well. “The story I’m making up…” created a space for us to share our intentions and feelings and work through the misunderstandings in a calm and safe environment.
Why Use It
The beauty of this phrase is that it provides the setting to speak openly without initiating a defensive reaction from whomever you’re speaking with. It allows you to honestly express your experience while still taking responsibility for your own feelings. This is a disarming method of communication that leads to a more productive dialogue.
“The story I’m making up…” becomes an opportunity to revisit a confusing or troubling situation. From there you can challenge your perceptions and reality-check them against the viewpoint of the other person. It provides space for the other person to clarify their intentions.
The majority of the time this phrase stops an argument before it can even start for me and my husband. When one of us is feeling confused, hurt, or misunderstood, we tell the other what story we’re making up.
Oftentimes the other person clears up the issue without any conflict because typically our intentions with one another are good.
Miscommunication and negative assumption are the causes of so much unintentional and unnecessary conflict in relationships. Instead of getting into a fight or silently resenting the other person, using the phrase, “The story I’m making up…” establishes a safe place for meaningful dialogue to gain better understanding of the situation and one another.
You may realize there actually is no issue, or if there is, you can continue to work through it together in a respectful and effective manner.
Communication image via Shutterstock