Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Telling stories on myself

On Saturday I stood in front of an audience of victim support professionals and told the story of my descent into hell of an abusive relationship and my journey into well-being. When I was standing in front of the audience I told them that I was revealing myself through my story to inspire others to stand up and find their voices.

Telling our stories without fear of being judged or feeling 'less than' takes courage. It takes a strong convinction that in the telling I will not be harmed or dragged through the hell of the memories of that relationship again. If I tell my story and am emotionally connected to the events, then I am still emotionally at risk. If I tell my story without tears clogging my throat, and my eyes becoming misty, I am confident in myself, and assured that my story is not being told to garner pity or to hurt myself, but rather to help others heal. Make sense?

In life, we are always telling stories on ourselves. Think about the last time you told a story about yourself. It could be as simple as the story about the guy who cut you off in traffic and then promptly drove into the back-end of a Hummer. Or, it could be the time you stood in line at the grocery story and the mother spanked her little boy and you intervened.

Telling stories is a natural part of our daily lives. Some of us are more adept at painting word pictures while others are more adept at creating emotional connections. Regardless of how we tell our stories, there are two main reasons we do so:
  • To protect ourselves
  • To reveal ourselves

When we tell a story to protect ourselves, we use the events of what happened to paint a better picture of ourselves. Generally, we focus on making ourselves look good in the re-telling of what happened by making someone else look bad. Now, this isn't a vicious attack on someone else kind of story-telling. It's often just the slight adjustment of the events to put a better spotlight on what we did versus what they did. You know, the adding into the retelling of the story the things we wished we'd said intead of what we actually said at the time.

Like, when your boss comes in and tells you your sales report is late. At the time, your response was a I know. I know. I'm working on it. But, in the retelling later that day over drinks with your co-workers, you add that you told the boss the five things wrong with the product, marketing, the sales plan and how it is impossible to meet the targets because..... Everyone at the bar nods their heads in agreement followed by a heated conversation about what's wrong with the company and how you are all victims of bad management.

In the retelling, you've added elements to protect yourself so that you don't have to be accountable for not getting your sales reports in on time. You've enhanced the story to take the spotlight off your late sales reports by encouraging their collusion in finding fault with management. That way you don't have to find solutions to your lagging performance. Protecting the ego through tearing down the cause of the 'fear' becomes more important than building up self-esteem through achievement.

The other night, my friend and I came back to my house after dinner to continue our conversation. When I walked in I realized I hadn't checked my phone messages for a few days as I'm stilling house-sitting my friends' dog. Without thinking, I picked up the phone and checked my messages. One message was from the mother of the young man who had been staying with my daughters. He had been 'kicked' out of his home and had no where to go. The girls decided they wanted to help him out and after asking me if it was okay, they let him stay for a few days. I asked my friend if it was all right if I quickly called her back, and he said yes. A quick phone call turned into a longer conversation about her son and the situation he's in.

At one point, my friend motioned he was leaving and I realized what I'd done. I ended the conversation and apologized to my friend. He was gracious enough to accept my apology without settling into defensive anger and we sat and chatted for awhile longer.

After he left I thought about what I'd done -- I'd hurt my friend. I'd been rude, and not very compassionate. I also learned a valuable lesson.

Paying attention in the moment means I'm doing what is right and honest and caring of those I'm with. When I slip out of the moment into other places, I risk hurting people I love. I walked into the house, picked up the phone to check messages and disregarded the reason my friend and I had come back to chat. I promptly wrote my friend a note of apology and gratitude. He'd helped me awaken to where my behaviour was inappropriate and where I could do better.

I told that story to reveal myself. When I did what I did, I didn't look very good! In fact, I looked like an inconsiderate, selfish, thoughtless -- lol -- you get the picture! In looking at my actions, I was able to see what was true for me in that situation and to acknowledge what I'd done so that I could apologize and make amends.

Now, if I'd told that story to protect myself I would have cushioned what I'd done with justifications of why it was sooooo important that I phone that woman asap. I mean, really, she was desperate to learn about her son and his where abouts. I'd wanted to phone her ever since her son had come to stay at the house but had committed to him that I wouldn't as he was in contact with her he told me.... Bottomline, to protect myself I would have used excuses for my bad behaviour. There is no excuse for being rude. I made the first mistake when I walked into the house to continue a conversation with a very dear friend and chose to check my phone messages -- I could have waited until after he was gone.

When I tell a story to reveal myself I am accepting my human condition, warts and all, and am open to learning from every experience. When my friend told me that what I did affected him adversely, I was given the gift of an opportunity to grow. Had I responded with excuses, I would have damaged our friendship, and created distance, rather than closeness between us. I want closeness with my friends. It is up to me to do the things that create more of what I want in life and less of what doesn't. When I do those things that take me away from my goal, it's my responsibility to take action that reverses my direction.

A wonderful lesson to carry on my journey today so that I can continue to do better in my life!

Cause, when I know better, I do better!

Telling stories on ourselves is a great way to gain clarity and understanding of what we're doing. It's important to contain those stories to what we're doing, and leave others responsible for their words and actions. Embellishing our stories, tweaking them just that little bit to ensure our excuses for bad behaviour or inconsiderate actions means we're protecting ourselves from the truth. When I'm protecting myself from the truth, I'm moving through fear. I'm letting fear drive me into defensiveness and not allowing my courage to draw me into love.

Life is about the stories we tell -- on ourselves, on others, on what happens ever day. Sometimes, we only tell our stories to ourselves. We repeat again and again in our heads the events and happenings and in the process, remind ourselves of our failures, not our successes. When we add in what we wished we'd said, or wished we'd done, we are undermining our ability to deal with what is real, so that we can grow and learn and do better with our knowledge.

Staying in the moment, staying true to myself means I am accountable for everything I do and say AND think. Embellishing my story to position myself as the victim and others as the perpetrators of my anger, discomfort, unease, pain, even if it's only in my head, means I'm lying to myself because I'm afraid of me.

Think about the stories you tell and commit to revealing your true self through your story telling. Story telling is a powerful tool. When we use it to create more of what we want, to create opportunities for honest sharing and growth, we are contributing our strength, our courage and our experience to the world around us. In our honest sharing, we create a world where more is possible and better is always achieveable.

Today, my goal is to be better than I was yesterday. My goal is to take my learning from yesterday and use it to create more of what I want and less of what I don't want.

Through my stories, I am committed to revealing myself, warts and all, so that I can continue to learn and grow and along the way, inspire others to uncover their wings and fly free.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Louise - I had a lot of reading to catch up on - hadn't read your blog for 5 days.......
you're amazing.....I thank you for your blog - you're truly inspirational - I've printed some off & am going to cut out some of the paragraphs and plant them in my day book - that I right everything in, so that I can fill my day with your wonderful insights & purpose. Love you ....Jane xoxoxo