I came across a reading the other day that said things are not as bad as you think. I had a chuckle when I read it because there have been many times that my thoughts have led me down the path of catastrophic thinking and created a whirlwind of unnecessary anxiety. Some of us who are alcoholics in 12-step recovery call it faulty wiring or the dis-ease of perception. For whatever reason, our thoughts can convince us that things are not as they appear.
Alcoholic or not, our interpretations, perceptions, and opinions are part of who we are as an individual. I think that our experiences in life create a lens that helps each and every one of us see life and the world around us in a unique and personal way that is never the same as the next person. What is not so unique is that regardless of our lens that we see life through, many of us have struggled at times with separating truth from fiction in situations. We are neurobiologically hardwired for story and if we don’t have one, our brain will make up one. We all do it! When we become uncomfortable in a situation or feel triggered by emotion, it is our automatic response to try and make sense of the emotions we are having. The key is to decipher which stories are fact-based and which are not.
Has there ever been a time you thought someone was talking bad about you, and it turned out they were not even talking about you at all? Or a situation where you felt like someone’s behavior was intentionally trying to anger you, but their behavior had nothing to do with you at all?
I remember a time that I missed an email that went in my junk folder for an invite to a social gathering, and I assumed that I wasn’t invited because certain people didn’t want me there. One time a co-worker of mine barely spoke to me all shift. I spent the whole day thinking she was mad at me and I must have done something wrong. What was really going on for her was that she had a fight with her spouse that morning and was processing it all day while we were working. The common thread in all these scenarios resides in the story we tell ourselves. We are great story tellers and, I don’t know about you, but I can make up some pretty ridiculous stories.
I have learned to recognize when I am stuck in story mode to practice a simple exercise to save me from going down that self-loathing path of thought destruction. We can learn to catch ourselves in story-telling mode any time something feels uncomfortable by taking a moment to ask ourselves, “What is the story I am telling myself right now?” We have the ability to decipher fact from fiction and stay in the presence of truth and away from assumptions that leave us feeling unworthy, unloved, and disconnected.
The practice of asking myself “What is the story I am telling myself right now?” has been a relationship saver in my life for a few years since hearing Brene Brown share this life hack. Any time I feel myself becoming irritated, resentful or upset, I ask myself that simple question and sometimes do some journaling to sort things out. It offers me an opportunity to be honest, transparent and vulnerable while giving me the option to rethink about the situation that is highjacking my serenity. Sometimes when I am journaling it will also lead me to asking myself the questions What are my assumptions? and What are the facts? Writing it all down on paper for those especially tough circumstances, like a disagreement with someone you care about, or a confusing outcome of an employment situation, can help you regain some clarity.
The dis-ease of perception, stinking thinking, faulty wiring, or whatever name you want to call it that causes you to engage in those story-telling habits, can lead you down a path of questioning your relationships, partnerships, and associations with others. It can be self-destructing and messy, but when learn to change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.