Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dropping Our Stories

I read recently about a speaker who was trying to contact the man in charge of the retreat at which she was speaking. She called and asked for him. The person who answered the phone said he wasn’t there. So she left a message for him to call her back. He didn’t call. The next day, she called and asked for him again. The person who answered once again said he wasn’t there. At this point, feeling frustrated, she said, “Well, maybe this means that I shouldn’t be speaking at your retreat.” The other person paused and then said, “Maybe it just means he isn’t here right now.”

Our theme this month is giving ourselves permission to be happy. One way that we can do that is to think about the stories we tell ourselves.

Several years ago, I tried to get in contact with someone to thank her for something she had done for me. She didn’t return my call. I left a couple of messages over the next several weeks, but she still did not respond. I felt confused and a bit angry, and my feelings were hurt. I wondered if I had done something to offend her. I kept thinking about our last communications, looking for something I had said that might have been taken the wrong way. Several months later I ran into her somewhere. She assured me she would get in touch. She didn’t. I was even more hurt and confused and angry. And embarrassed because by now I was convinced I had done something to warrant her behavior.

I dropped it, but it stayed in the back of my mind. Then a couple of weeks ago, something reminded me of her. I wrote her a short note, telling her that I was sorry if I had done something to offend her and inviting her to meet so we could talk about it. I was somewhat surprised that she responded immediately and graciously. We met a few days ago. She explained that she had been dealing with some personal issues and had become distracted, and she sincerely apologized for her behavior. It had nothing to do with me. I told her some of the things I had imagined as the reasons for her ignoring me. We had a good laugh about some of them.

I used a lot of mental and emotional energy constructing all sorts of scenarios, and feeling bad about most of them. None of them were true.

We choose the stories we tell ourselves. Instead, we can choose not to tell ourselves any stories at all and just pay attention to what is really happening. Do you tell yourself stories that block your happiness? If we can catch ourselves spinning a negative tale, and recognize that it is simply a story we are making up, then we can choose to drop it and be happier.

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. –Shakespeare


  1. Oh yes that is one of my favorite quotes and so true, don't you think? I know often I'll assume things that are so wrong, and wish I could stop and be more aware, but it's one of our human faults...thanks for sharing this important reminder!

  2. so often we think it is all about us when the other person doesn't meet our expectations with their response. Thanks for the reminder that it's not!

  3. I get like that...self doubt. My imagination runs away thinking I said something wrong or stupid (I'm good for that). Then I let it go. I can't harbor on those things. I'd drive myself crazy. Usually I'll put it in the back of my brain and if I see the person again, I'll feel them out in conversation. If it seems like an issue, then I'll speak up. But other than that it's usually business as usual. Just my lack of self confidence in social situations.

  4. Karen S--Well, I know it's true for me. So much of what I write is a reminder to myself!

    Alida--Your comment reminded me of a great quote about expectations from the book A Place of Hiding, by Elizabeth George. "Expectations destroy our peace of mind, don't they? They're future disappointments planned out in advance."


  5. ryoko861--I know, it's such a human thing to do. It's stunning to think how much distress we cause ourselves with our own stories!

  6. Great advice! My stories are often not mentally healthy, but I'm getting better.

  7. I do this all the time, and know I should not, but have no idea how to stop. How to bring myself back to reality. Any help?

  8. Anonymous--It's an ongoing process, isn't it?!

    aneri_masi--Great question! See next post for an answer!

  9. Hi Galen,

    I remember years ago when I first started to use the internet and chatted with people online, it was very easy for me to let my mind run while when people did not respond. I feared it was something I did or said that caused them to be displeased with me. This was made worse if the person who did not respond was a girl I liked. Ah the follies of youth. :P All my negative thoughts and my need for approval sent my mind into a tailspin. It took me sometime but I learned to realize that other people have their problems for not responding and it is not really a big deal. Nowadays even if people do not respond, I do not think too much of it. There are always other people who would respond that warrant my attention.

    Thank you for sharing this post! It is a problem that many of us experienced from time to time. :)

    Irving the Vizier

  10. Oh my goodness, this applies to so many you know from my blog, I've been thinking negatively despite a mostly positive outlook because I am creating stories/scenarios in my head that are not healthy. I know I have a reason to fear a little, but if I can remember this post, it might begin to help me push unwarrented negative thoughts away.

  11. JackSamMum--Fearful stories are certainly understandable when our children are sick or in danger. If any of these thoughts or techniques bring you support or comfort, then I am humbly pleased.

  12. I do that all the time! I didn't realize that was what it was. "Oh, I didn't get an email back, she must be ignoring me. I didn't get a call back she must be mad"
    I shall try to pay attention to this.

  13. Galen - This struck a chord with me. As you know, I've written a lot about how fear and the negative "what ifs..." tend to grab me and catch me off guard. But, you touched on something else here, the stories we complete when other people either don't respond to us or respond in a negative manner -- and we replay the scene over and over again. Writing the personal note--in a day and age when we so seldom send and receive personal letters was a wonderful way for you to reconnect and rewrite this story with your friend!

  14. onemixedbag--Many of us do it out of habit. Paying attention will help us be more mindful so that we can develop a habit that supports our happiness.

    Elizabeth--Yes, exactly. Our stories that we tell ourselves come up in many situations, including those "what ifs...."

    Thanks to both of your for your comments.


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