Wednesday Book Conversation: Rising Strong: Owning our Stories

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. As such, it’s not intended to be a review or critique. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our third week reading Brené Brown’s most recent book Rising Strong.

In reality, chapter 3 of Rising Strong is a short chapter outlining the rest of the book. It introduces ideas like the reckoning, the rumble and the revolution, ideas that we will explore together in time. So, this week I’m going to riff a bit on this idea of owning our stories because it really is at the heart of this book.

In chapter 2 she introduced an idea I didn’t talk about because for me, it’s been the most important idea that I’ve gleaned from this book thus far (at the time of writing, I’m through the 8th chapter) and I wanted to give it more breathing room.

So here’s a peek inside my head (and probably yours too).

Stuff happens. People say stuff, people do stuff, things come up, plans change, we succeed, we fail, and when stuff happens, our brains interpret events. We assign meaning to what people say and how they act. So, in our brains we have trains of thought that might go something like this:

  • My coworker is a real bitch today because she hates working for me.
  • My kid is being a brat this evening because he enjoys making his little sister cry.
  • The reason she hasn’t called or texted recently is because she isn’t interested in my friendship anymore.
  • The reason he didn’t hug me when he walked in the door from work is because he doesn’t love me like he used to.

Here’s the tricky part. Sometimes, we’re right. Sometimes the reason we assign to stuff that happens is correct, or at least in the ballpark, particularly if we know the person really well. But, all too often, we’re only guessing. And, guess what? We’re often wrong. Our coworker actually had a fight with her husband this morning, our kid is struggling with a friendship at school, the friend hasn’t texted us because they think we gave up on the friendship and the reason he didn’t hug you when he walked in from work was because it had been a really hard day and he was preoccupied.

The hard part is figuring out what is true or false about the story we are telling ourselves – which we will explore more in chapter five when we talk about “the Rumble.”

But for now, it’s enough to simply acknowledge that we all tell ourselves stories about ourselves, about the world and about each other.

    • I have stories I tell myself about myself. Some of them are true, some are false, some are actually hopes and dreams, some are exaggerations, some are bolstered by bravado and some are shaped by my insecurities.
    • I also have stories I tell myself about you. Again, some are true, some are false, some are simple misunderstandings, and some are buried deep under years of interactions.
    • You have stories you tell yourself about me. Some of you only know me through my writing, some of you know me through my speaking, some of you know me in social circles and a few of you know me in more intimate ways. And through our interactions you’ve developed a narrative about me, as I have about you.

Owning our stories is about acknowledging that we all create a story to make sense of the stuff that happens and then we live according to that story. Our actions and interactions are driven by what we’ve made up in our head.

We’re going to talk more about curiosity next week, but part of this owning of our stories is being curious about them. It’s about asking ourselves, “what is the story I’m telling myself about…”

As silly as it may sound, I’ve begun to use this language in exactly this way. Since I read this chapter a couple weeks ago, I’ve tried to say, in a couple different conversations, “the story I’m telling myself about this event/conversation is…” The beauty of this kind of language is that I own that I might be wrong. I acknowledge up front that I’ve interpreted events – because we all interpret events – but I’m remaining open to the possibility that my interpretation of events is skewed.

(And, by the way, they are nearly always skewed in some way. All of us, whether the stories we tell ourselves are positive or negative, are generally overconfident in our ability to know what’s really going on at any given time. In fact, part of the training of a counselor/therapist is learning to be wary and curious about how working with someone brings up your own “stuff” – your own stories and how your “stuff” clouds your ability to hear accurately. In technical terms its called countertransference. If I remember correctly, Brené talks about this in Daring Greatly where she talks about how parenting tends to bring up our own unresolved, adolescent “stuff” and how we’ve got to deal with it if we want to parent in a wholehearted way.)

I know this post is going long. (I told you, this was impactful to me!) So, here’s what I’m suggesting. This week, when stuff happens, when you’re upset by your spouse, child, coworker, someone you care about, instead of assigning a reason for why they treated you the way they treated you, try saying to them, “the story I’m making up about this is…”

  • “The story I’m making up about how you’ve shunned me all evening is that you are pissed at me for something I did or didn’t do.”
  • “The story I’m making up about why you forgot to tell me Happy Birthday is that you don’t care about me.”

And if you really want to go the extra mile, here’s a second, more intimate exercise. In a more intimate relationship, one where you really care about the person, and the relationship is safe, maybe you might try asking them, “what is the story you’re making up about me, about us, right now?”

I surely don’t need to know the intimate details, but I’d love to hear if you’ve tried this and how it’s worked out for you.

Thanks for reading along!


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