9 posts categorized "Narrative Thinking" Feed

If you had a friend that talked to you like you do, would you still be friends?

I have a serious question for you. 

If you had a friend that talked to you like you talk to you, would you still be friends?

I've talked and written in the past about the importance of talking to yourself over listening to yourself. It's imperative that you take an active  role in directing the thoughts that run your through your head.  My friend and colleague, Marissa Stevens (Nae Freyling) wrote a post about that quote here regarding her journey with cancer and life. 

Which brings me back to my questions for you.

Q. What do you say to yourself when you do something silly like drop a container of laundry soap?  Is it, "I'm such an idiot!" or some other disparaging remark? 

Q. What do you say to yourself when opportunity for success and therefore failure presents itself?

Q. What do you way to yourself when you dream?

Q. What do you say to yourself when someone pays you a compliment?  Do you mentally catalogue all of your shortcomings? 

Q. What do you say to yourself when someone offers you criticism? Do you flat out reject as hate or do you pile on top of it moving well beyond the original thought of the person ?

Your answers matter because your life will be driven by your thoughts. Like a hidden steering wheel, our brain controls much of how our body responds to the world around us. 

This is not a post about some Pollyanna like false talk. It is not a post about some sort of false pie in the sky hope. 

It is a post about being honest about your worth. It is a post about believing you have worth simply because you exist. You bring something to the world that no on else brings it.Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 6.39.18 PM

You're not an idiot because something bad happened like you lost $100 that you can't afford to lose. You're not shameful because someone molested or raped you as a child. You didn't deserve to be raped because you were drunk at a party. Your worth isn't diminished because your father didn't know how to adequately love you. You're not worthless because your mom took every chance she could to remind you that you were an accident that wasn't planned.

I do not believe you are an accident. I do believe you have worth.

And at least part of my mission to convince you of the same thing. Our world seems caught between unfettered narcissism and overwhelming self loathing. 

Troubles come for us all, but they do not have to define any of us. 

Which brings me back to my first question. Would you be friends with someone who talked to you like you talk to yourself? 
If they answer to that is no, why do you talk to yourself that way?

What would happen if you started to talking to yourself in a different way? What would happen if you started talking to yourself in an honest and encouraging way?

Why not run an experiment and find out?



Forgiveness and Process: Who are you becoming?

It's been an interesting couple of weeks at my house.  It seems almost every area of our life is in some sort of transition. The start of the year has been somewhat hard.

So last Saturday, we decided on a whim to go to a local eatery for wings.

The food was good, the service was extremely slow. This lead to a continuing conversation about conflict, fear and life.

My wife commented that she sees so many people who become the things they most said they didn't want to become in life.

In other words, the person focused on not being their mom, will often become their mom.  My kids asked if I agreed with her and I told them that I did, without reservation.

They wanted to know why I thought this was so.  I told them that I thought focusing purely on what you don't want to become is not enough.

Invariably, you will become what you focus on. Change Process Illustrated

You need something more than what you don't want to become. You need to know what you want to become, and why you want to become it.
If you have pain from someone else (and invariably, almost all of us do), you need to process it.

Ignoring it. Glossing over it. Embellishing it. Worshiping it.  Getting comfort from it.

Anything other than processing it, will lead to becoming someone who transmits the same types of pain to others.

So, let's say a person focuses on not being their Dad and they choose behaviors that are the exact opposite of their Dad, but never forgive their Dad and process through the pain he caused them, that person will transmit that pain to those they love.

You need focus and forgiveness.

Without forgiveness, there will be little process. Without process, there will be little forgiveness.

You have to engage in both to truly experience change.

Forgiveness helps us deal with the past.
Process allows us to the focus on the future.
In focusing on the future, we shape our present. This is why we must examine what we are focusing on. If you don't focus on what you want to become (your future), you will become whatever you are focusing on.

Often, that is our past. Especially, when our past has unprocessed hurts.

So what about you? What hurts from your past have you not processed? Who do you need to forgive? What are you focusing on? Who do you want to become?

What is your character sketch?

In college I had the opportunity to be in a few plays. I was able to do some Shakespeare and a few other authors that to be honest, I forget. I enjoyed being able to play a few bigger roles and a few smaller roles. My favorite for the character sketches was the smaller roles. Play as Romeo? That character is pretty much defined for you. Play as Sebastian? That character is laid out for you. Certainly, there is a difference in character portrayal by each actor but if anyone went off reservation about those characters, people would flip. The smaller characters? No one cares too much about them. I played a government agent once. He was identified in the script as "Government man #1." That was it. I called him Jim. He liked pickles only on his hamburgers. Hot dogs had to have mayonnaise and chili. Jim lived in a small ranch house with a white picket fence. His lawn was kept meticulously and he only used American made products. His closet was organized by color and function. He had two bathrooms in his house but only used one because why would a single man need two bathrooms? Jim only had the law. It was his mistress, his lover and his greatest source of angst. Relationships had died on the alter of Jim's obsession with the law. At night, he would soothe his pain with 12 year old scotch. Every Sunday Jim put on his only navy blue suit (pinstripes) and went to the seventeen baptist church of his hometown. How do I know all of this? Because I wrote Jim's story. I made up his background and decided what my interpretation of his 3 lines totaling 42 words would be. His story, his character sketch was mine to do with as I wished. Which brings me to the point of this post. What is your character sketch for your life? There's plenty that you don't get to make up like I did for Jim, but the basic question still applies. What story do you want to tell with your life? This is, perhaps the greatest question of your life. What story are you telling with your life? The difference between the story you are telling with your life and the story you want to be telling with your life is the degree to which you will find mental happiness, I believe. Is your story selfish? Is your story boring? Is your story selfless? Is your story exciting? By and large, you get to decide what you do with your life. You get to decide the story you will tell with your life. And the beauty of it is that it doesn't matter what happens to you, or who wrongs you. You still decide the story that your life tells. Someone wrongs you? That's an opportunity to tell a story of forgiveness. Forced to make a decision about life? How would you feel if the story was shown on the big screen? One of the biggest problem areas in relationships that I see is in the area of what story will we tell as a couple? What does it mean for us to tell a love story? I have found the greater the difference between the story each person thought they would be telling and the actual story they are telling is proportionate to the amount of angst and frustration in their relationship story. So two questions for you:
  1. What story did you want to tell with your life?
  2. What story are you telling with your life?

9 year old dies: the result of stupid parenting techniques gaining traction

People wonder why I am so adamant about not indulging in these types parenting techniques. My post on the gentleman that shot his daughters computer generated a lot of discussion on here and on my personal Facebook page.

This little girl died and my fear is that if she had not died, then people would assume that this type of parenting is acceptable. I can hear the pragmatic arguments about how at least they were trying something. It wasn't traditional but it got through to her.







Because she ate some candy bars. SHE ATE SOME CANDY BARS. Take a moment and allow that thought to digest. She lied to grandma about eating candy bars. This type of parenting is born out of the idea that violence is somehow redemptive when it comes to children. It stems from a belief that bullying is OK if you are the parent. It comes from an angry place inside of the person administering it, not a place of love.

Violence is not OK, even if you are the parent. This type of parenting is wrong even if she had lived.

Parenting should be about shaping future adults. It should not be about our own pride or desire. Let me say this, as long as we tolerate this type of parenting more tragic results are going to come from these stupid and dangerous acts.

Not all of the victims will die. Some will just grow up with great psychological trauma. Some will have huge attachment issues. Some will abuse their kids. I sometimes wonder what in the world people thought parenting was going to be like. What did they think it would mean to be a parent? I'm done writing for today. Today, I am mourning a little girl's death. I am mourning a society that has lost its way when it comes to how we raise our children.

Whitney Houston and our own Narrative thinking

Unless, you've been secluded from society this weekend, you learned that Whitney Houston died this weekend. I don't know why and to be honest, I'm ok not knowing. This post really isn't about Whitney.

Have you ever had someone force a plot on you that you didn't feel was fair? They assigned motives to your actions that weren't what was really going through your brain?

Have you ever done that to someone else? We use Narrative thinking to make sense of the world around us. This is necessary and good but sometimes we apply narratives to others that aren't actual, even if they work. This stems from the complexity that is the human experience. People are complicated.

On top of that we tend to apply a narrative to life that doesn't really work. We think that happiness is "out there." Wherever out there is at, we believe if we get there we'll find happiness. So when someone who made it to the "out there" in our mind we can't believe that they would waste it with drugs, and alcohol. We can't believe that they wouldn't be happy when they have what we are convinced would make us happy.

If we were rich and famous and had thousands of fans, we'd be happy. If we were an athlete, or a music star we'd be happy. The reason we're not happy is because we're stuck in a bad job or bad marriage, or we're not rich enough. If we just had what they had.

Never mind the fact that we have example after example that tells us this narrative is incorrect. Never mind that almost all of the stories (narratives) that we can see tell us the exact opposite. We need to make peace with the fact that by and large we choose our own happiness. We often cannot choose our circumstances but we can and must choose our reactions.

I don't know what inner demons Ms Houston fought. I am sorry for her family, and loved ones who lost someone too soon.

I hope that everyone who ponders her life and death will consider what they believe about their own narrative. I hope that we will all realize that we choose how we react in every situation and that we can choose happiness. We can make peace with our past and our present.

When tragedy enters the plot

I almost called this post, When the plot is a tragedy but I think that would miss the point of what I'm going after. I'm reading an extremely interesting book about the effects of divorce on children throughout their life. The book is the result of a qualitative study about divorce.

It’s amazing to hear the narrative. This post isn’t about the book though. It is about the idea of tragedy entering into our narrative. What happens when that happens?

Have you ever met someone who desperately wanted to be in a relationship but are constantly sabataging the relationships that they are in? Have you ever met someone who seems to constantly date the same person.

Often when we encounter tragedy we can become stronger. Of course, we can also develop dysfunctions that serve a function in the face of our tragedy.

Think about a person who went through an issue of security as a child. Often as an adult they will be afraid of intimacy. Sometimes, when we experience severe pain, we will make a promise to ourselves.

I'll never be that vulnerable again!

The problem with that is that in order to get what they really want in a relationship, they will have to be that vulnerable again. So, they pursue a relationship and when it starts to get to intimate (beyond their safe point where they are almost where they promised they'd never go) they sabotage and the whole thing blows up.

I have friends who do this. What's interesting is the plot rarely changes. The names change, but the details of the story are almost the same. So what do we do when tragedy enters our story. The answer is probably multi-layered.

  1. We admit it. I am afraid that we are trying to legislate grief out of our story. I sat with a person of color yesterday why someone else told a racist story. That's a tragedy. It hurts. It is wrong. It affects the people who heard it. When someone you trusted betrays you, it hurts. Denying it is a recipe for disaster. It is almost guaranteeing yourself that you will not see the effects because you are denying the cause.
  2. We admit it is affecting us. This flows directly from admitting that it happened. We do not come to this place in a vacuum. We come here with millions of billions of thumbprints on us from our past experiences. They all affect us.
  3. We seek advice on how it might be affecting us. Listen to your friends. Seek professional help. Sometimes, we become so close to something that we cannot see how it is affecting us.
  4. We examine the story of our life and look for themes and patterns that we don't like. This comes from #3. Seeing the patterns and themes of our life allows to decide if we want those themes and patterns. We can decide what type of story we want to tell. We can change the plot. It takes courage and perseverance.
  5. We make a plan for change.

We don't have to live a tragedy. We can live an adventure that had tragedy as part of the plot.

When what you want is what you fear the most: Narrative thinking about our own plot

I was having a conversation lately with someone who was stuck in a really bad story. She is dating the same guy over and over again. And while his name has changed, his character has been the same.

It's messing with her head.It's keeping her up at night. It's making her feel hollow inside. Then I asked her one of the most powerful questions we can ask of anyone.

What do you want?

She told me. What was interesting to her was that every time she gets close to what she wants, it freaks her out. She literally panics and runs away. I asked her about that and she said she was perplexed. I suggested to her that the very thing she wanted was the scariest thing. So I asked a follow up question (Hey, I'm a counselor! We ask questions).

What drives your decisions? What you want or avoiding what you don't want?

Often the thing we want the most will force us to risk the thing we don't want the most. You have to risk rejection to find true acceptance. The entrepreneur risks failure to find success. Think about anything you have done that has been meaningful in your life. Somewhere in that journey you risked failure. Think about all the things that you wanted to do but didn't because you were afraid you would risk failure. Now accept the fact that you also risked success and because of the fear of failure you failed to give the fire of success a chance to burn bright.

Now ask yourself, What am I not doing right now because I'm afraid of failing? What am I afraid of risking? Is this really worth risking success? There are some things I wont' risk for success. But our list should be pretty short.

It's the plot that matters most

A constant theme in mental health that I have written about is that what happens to you is less important than how you make sense of what happens to you. This is a very important concept. So important, I want to write it again.

What happens to you is not as important as how you make sense of what happens to you. 

This is true about our entire life.  One way to understand this is through the idea of narrative. Think about a movie or a favorite book. It has a plot. Most of the times, we want the plot to make sense to us. The same is true of our lives. We want the narrative to make sense to us. We use our narratives to make sense of things that do happen to us. 

We need life to make sense. That is why we will always have labels, no matter how often people want to push back against them. We need them. We need the plot of life to make sense to us. 

Many times the people that we help in the mental health field have lost the plot of the narrative. They have lost the pieces that help it make sense. 

It’s not just true of our life, but also the things that happen in the world around us. We need to be able to understand the motives of that athlete, or this movie star. We need bad guys and good guys. The idea that most of the people we see as bad guys or good guys are probably more like us is disturbingly uncomfortable.  It brings fear into our mind.

And fear brings anger. Almost every time.

When we feel that our narrative is being questioned, we will become angry and defensive. What makes this interesting to me is that we often don’t realize this is what is happening. Sometimes, people argue and disagree over known and incontrovertible facts but that is rare.  Most of the time, our arguments are at a plot line level. 

I had two separate conversations this past weekend where this was true. One was with a bunch of people where I felt the plot that made the most sense was one of an organization over-reaching for control. Most of the others thought it was an organization operating as it was designed. As I realized that our disagreement stemmed from that, I began to change the way I approached the conversation. We didn’t come to much common ground but we did figure out where we disagreed and by and large we agreed to disagree. It was a fun conversation that involved passion, and high emotions. It also involved laughter because very few people were threatened by their narrative being questioned. 

I had another conversation that didn’t go so well. Isn’t that the way it almost always is, we have one good conversation followed by one bad one? He thought the plot was a bad guy getting what he deserved. A guy who was arrogant, and conniving and...just a bad guy. The man was assigning motives and understanding that he couldn’t have known for certain, because he doesn’t know that person he was talking about. But for his narrative to make sense, these things have to be true.  My narrative of the same situation is something different.  It is one of a hero being attacked by people with less than pure motives. But still I’m assigning motives to people I don’t know as well. Not surprisingly, we didn’t find much common ground. In fact, it is safe to say that the man is angry with me. 

Our plot lines simply did not match up. We could have as many conversations about whatever, but until we could figure out where our plot lines diverged, we simply were not going to agree. We couldn't find common ground because we believed we were both living different stories.

In the same way, you will find this principle to be true when you find people who you would not normally be friends with or be involved with much at all but you find a common goal to work toward. This creates a plot that supersedes the disagreeing plots. Maybe a democrat works alongside a republican to help feed a family that was burnt out of their house last week. The plot line of their political parties is overrode by the plotline of helping someone in a bad situation out. They have found common ground.

Of course, this brings up a host of serious questions. For everyone all of us. 

  1. What happens when we lose the plot to our own life?
  2. What happens when the plot we are operating out of is wrong? 
  3. What happens when the plot we claim to believe is not the plot that we are living out of?  (this is called not living an integrated life)
  4. What happens when the plot we are forced to live in seems hopeless?
  5. What happens when the plot we believe is questioned?
  6. What does it mean for our plot when we get angry? What does it mean for us?
  7. What happens when the plot seems upside down (good is losing and evil is winning?)
  8. What happens when someone we love is living in a bad plot? (Someone we love making bad choices, destroying their life, etc. 
  9. What happens when our spouse (of children) wish to live a plot that is different than ours? 

These types of questions do not have quick or easy answers. I believe that they do have answers though. I believe that those answers can be found. The problem is that these questions are not exhaustive. I imagine someone out there is already thinking about a question that I don't have up there.  I'm going to take the time over the next few days to answer most of the above questions and then I want to change the perspective a little to look at the broader issues that may give us a tool to answer future questions.