Telling Your Story to Achieve Growth
I was sitting across my boss in supervision, prattling on and on about the catastrophe of the stress inducing evening session. Heavily immersed in my story telling, sharing the details of what I was thinking, feeling, and experiencing, he politely interrupted and asked me what happened.
“Oh my god, I was hungry because I hadn’t eaten and didn’t expect to be there later than I was. I was already really tired and was growing incredibly upset because it meant being stuck in traffic for over an hour. I already had so much to do and take care at home, and I was so—“
He interrupted my lamenting. He held his hand up to imply his need for me to stop, slowly getting up from his seat and heading to the dry erase board on the wall. Pulling out a marker, he drew two circles on the board, labeling them “The Story” and “What happened.”
In the circle entitled “Story,” he wrote out all of the things I shared: my thoughts and feelings, and all of the drama that ensued. At one point, he ran out of space within the circle, spilling over the curved edges he allotted to house my narrative. Pointing at “What happened,” he asked me point blank what really happened.
Interrupting me time and time again when I began to obsessively recount the details, he asked me again, “Aileen, in just a few words, tell me what happened.”
“I was running late, and it made me upset.”
“Good. Now this time, remove the emotion from it.”
“I was running late. Simply put.”
The dark side of owning your story is knowing that we get more caught up in the details and the drama, fully invested in reliving every single emotion associated with the event. While the emotions are real and the experience is significant, the difficulty in placing more value in the story misses the point of truly understanding “what happened.”
The story can sometimes be the breeding grounds for recreating the experience of trauma and feelings of heartache, anger, frustration, and resentment. It can be a place where we move into and live, with very little opportunity to see outside of the story bubble. However, we are more than the story we tell ourselves over and over. We are more than this segment of our life story that we consciously chose to play out over and over again. We are a collection of “what happened,” and moreover, “what happened next.”
I’ve learned recently that spending too much time connected to my story means being completely disconnected from everything else. I’m remembering thoughts and feelings, while losing sight and ignoring the basis of what led me there. I’m running around the circle, which becomes an endless track of emotions that keep me from walking a straight line and out of a space of pain.
While sharing your story is important, and the retelling of the pain is one of the most cathartic and liberating acts, continually living in that story means falling short of the actual need to heal. We don’t get over an expired relationship focused on the “story”—we heal from accepting “what happened.”
In a recent exchange of emails between an expired relationship partner and myself, I found myself hashing out the details of why I was incredibly angry with him even after all of this time. Caught in the act of pouring out all the emotions attached to the story, I had to walk away from my computer to completely check out and check-in with myself. After a moment of agreement with myself that it was pointless to bring up the story, I decided to explore another avenue, focused on what happened and expressed in a direct manner why it hurt.
Stories are important. They hold the colorful details, the raw emotion, and in their truest form, our perceptions of our realities. Speaking our truths is a powerful healer, and the exchange of stories is how people build rapport and develop bonds. However, the dark side of telling your story is the supercharged emotions that bring you back to where you once were.
Tell your story, but give less power to the details. Share what happened, and more importantly, say what happened next. Because in that third invisible circle contains the next steps to take. This is where growth is found.
Want to chat with Aileen about your story and determine the next steps? Book a session.