Humans make up stories of what’s going on in order to make sense of things. The problem is, our stories are wrong a lot of the time. So we believe our made-up stories (it’s so easy) and then take action based upon whatever story we’ve constructed at the time.
Brene Brown, researcher/author/TED Talker/vulnerability expert/badass started a conversation with a specific phrase one day and it changed her her marriage and all of her other important relationships.
She and her husband were having an early morning swim in their favorite lake during a family vacation. At one stopping point, she tried connecting with him with a comment on how beautiful the lake was and how glad she was to be out there. He responded with a pensive grunt. She tried again. No go. This felt like a serious blow off. So she began to script out her ensuing sarcastic rebuttle that would normally proceed an interaction like this. However, she had just written a book about truly showing up in relationships and being vulnerable, so instead she tried something new.
Instead of assuming the worst in him, she said “I feel like you’re blowing me off and the story I’m making up is (that’s the phrase that could change your life!) either that you looked over at me while I was swimming and thought ‘Man, she’s getting old. She can’t even swim freestyle anymore.’ Or you saw me and thought ‘Man, she sure doesn’t rock a Speedo like she did 25 years ago.’ She did it. She exposed her true insecure feelings!
Once he heard this, he explained that he was not blowing her off at all. He was fighting off a panic attack about needing to be the designated life guard with their kids and their cousins later on. How would he keep everyone safe on this busy boating day? He was feeling vulnerable as well.
(Side note: physical appearance is a woman’s #1 shame trigger and being perceived as weak is a man’s.)
The real story for her husband? No. Thoughts. Of. Speedos. At. All.
If we simply acknowledge that we’re ‘making up’ a story, then the person we are confronting has room to explain their point of view, which is miles away from that tight uncomfortable corner we might have normally backed them into. We can let them know we haven’t decided on our story yet. We’re open to other stories; we just need to hear and understand them.
This phrase can be used with spouses, family members, people you work with, your doctor. It can FEEL more like a conversation and less like a confrontation.
Now that I’ve shared the phrase, the story I’ve made up is that I’ve now changed your life forever. You’re welcome. But the real story is that Ms. Brown has.
*This phrase came from Brene Brown’s fantastic book “Rising Strong” in which she describes the very human process of falling down (at work, at home, in life) and rising up again with courage and vulnerability. The audiobook version is read by her and it’s so good! Check out her TEDtalk on YouTube https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability or look up her explanation of Sympathy vs. Empathy for more info.