Reality Check: When you tell yourself a story

“Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.” If you’re a Canadian folk song aficionado of a certain age, you may be humming that Stan Rogers song right now. The Mary Ellen Carter isn’t just a catchy tune; it tells a story: the loss of a fishing boat; the betrayal of the owners who left her to “a sorry grave;” and the determination of the crew to lift her up and restore her to former glory.
Disaster. Betrayal. Loyalty. Determination. Triumph.
Those elements make for an inspirational story, don’t they? Whether truth or fiction, stories can motivate us by sending the message that good can emerge from bad.
However, while it’s possible for good results to emerge from disaster, good results are not inevitable. Whether the result turns out to be a triumph or a disaster may well depend on choices made by the people involved. Good results can require courage, determination and work.
We don’t have a lot of control over adversity. There are natural disasters, and also people-caused difficulties like betrayal, sadness, evil. Given the reality that bad events happen, how do we find and stay on a track toward good results rather than poor?
One helpful process could be to tell yourself a story. The story I’m thinking of isn’t a child-like fantasy to lull you into believing that everything is ok. Rather, if you find yourself trapped in a negative line of thinking, such as worry, anger, guilt, then one way to break out is to direct your imagination to find or create an inspirational story.
Let’s say you are weighed down by a past event. I’ll use betrayal as an example, as pretty much everyone, somewhere in their lives, has experienced some form of betrayal—we’ve been wronged.
There are different stories we can tell ourselves about the betrayal. For example, we can analyze: Why did he/she do that to me? What kind of person does that? Was it something I did?
We like things to make sense. And while it can help to sort through events, talk it out, and come up with reasons for what’s happened, no matter how much we analyze, probe, or discuss, we may never know the truth. Or, we may not like the truth, so we keep trying to come up with an explanation that’s more to our liking.
Past events, both the difficult ones and the encouraging ones, are part of us. Those events have brought us to where we are. But now what?
In Reality Therapy for the 21st Century, Dr. Robert Wubbolding talks about focusing on the present. While past events contribute to our current situation, we can only change our current choices and our future behaviours. Wubbolding references Dr. Glasser, who pointed out that we don’t need to find the pothole that damaged the car before we can get the front end aligned.
In our betrayal incident, it may be more helpful to find an inspirational story to guide our current action, rather than dwelling on a story that attempts to analyze the past. Inspirational stories of emerging from difficulty can shift our perception from, “This is hopeless” to “I can rise again.”
Do unhappy stories bog you down? How do you “rise again”?

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