Most people I work with agree that they are seeking guidance because they want to be happier. Our work begins with them telling me their stories. Each story is unique, but always includes other characters and emotions. No one can tell a story solely about himself because we cannot exist alone, and emotions are always involved because they connect us with each other. This post, “What Do You See? (How Our Views Affect Our Happiness)” explains how our view of ourselves and others can promote or demote our happiness.
We Tell Our Stories Through Our Senses
We tell our stories through our eyes, the way our mind interpreted the events, and by the feelings of our hearts. Our description of the characters in our stories are based on how they looked and behaved, and how they made us feel. This becomes the basis for how we view them and ultimately ourselves.
Our circumstances are the settings for our stories. Since we are central to those circumstances, we have the innermost vantage point. This makes it easier to look out than look in. Therefore, when we tell our stories, we focus on our feelings, our thoughts, our expectations, and what happened to us. Our focus becomes our story.
We Can’t, Don’t, or Won’t See Other Sides of Our Story
We are not one dimensional so neither are our stories. Our stories have other sides that come from the other characters and observers. These are the sides we can’t, don’t, or won’t see.
We can’t see the other side if we have limited knowledge at the time. If we haven’t acquired enough knowledge, maturity, or experience to question or challenge other people’s ideas or actions, we will just take in their story as our own. This go with the flow method of maintaining a story is easy an safe. When we adopt someone else’s story, we don’t have to be independent thinkers and risk rejection, criticism, injury, or failure. We just accept the story and go with it.
If our story involved any hurt or pain, our alert system will want us to avoid that pain. We will shield or barricade ourselves behind anger or avoidance towards the ones who hurt us. This prevents us from seeing anything beyond what is directly in front of us. Therefore, we don’t see the other side. In addition, our subconscious mind stores the pain of hurtful events so we can avoid that pain in the future and secure our existence. While our subconscious mind has good intentions, the embedded bad thoughts and feelings give us more distress. This influences how we view our situations, ourselves, and others. It determines how we tell our stories.
Pride and stubbornness position us where we won’t see the other side of the story. Pride (the self-serving version) is having an extremely high sense of self that puts you above others. When you have this kind of pride, you can’t be beat. You have all the right moves and all the right answers. Pride destroys empathy and limits your compassion for others. So, you have little consideration for other people and their circumstances.
Two parts pride plus one part fear equals stubbornness. Stubborn people won’t let down their guard for fear of being wrong, failing, being rejected, being mocked, being criticized, or being disappointed. They won’t move beyond guarding themselves and their egos to care enough about seeing the other sides. They become controllers, aka “control freaks.” Even if they admit there is another side, they manipulate it so it conforms to what they want to see. Stubbornness prevents humility and causes more stress.
Not seeing or considering other sides of our stories causes us more distress and creates more bad stories. Changing any attitude of fear, pride, and stubbornness will give you a better view of your situation. Also, looking at it from a distance helps broaden the view, allowing you to take in more information and relay a more accurate story.
Difficult to See When You’re In The Situation
Being the observer in my clients’ stories allows me to see their situation from a distant view point. I liken it to an experience my family and I had when we went to one our annual Notre Dame Football games.
My husband acquired tickets for what sounded like extraordinary seats. They were in the “Field Box” section. Thinking we hit the seating jackpot, we were eager to our treasure pews. We discovered the seats were field level directly behind the Notre Dame players, who by the way, never sit down during the game. Our seats gave us a prime view of the players’ seats.
We were so close to the team, it was like we were right in the game with the players. But, our position didn’t give us visibility to see what was happening. There was no Jumbo Tron to watch and we couldn’t stand up because of the people sitting behind us. In order to see where the ball was coming from and going to, we had to twist and turn to look around the wall of players. Being “in the game” limited our view and awareness of what was actually going on. We were more aware of our own misery and did not enjoy the game.
Advantage of Distance Viewing
The people who tell me their stories are like my family and I were at the game. They are or were in “it,” and similarly to us, were or are unable to see around the obstacles to know what is going on. Therefore, they are more aware of their own discomfort, which in real life situations includes feelings of fear, anger, contempt, resentment, disappointment, sadness, guilt, and shame. I, on the other hand, am like the television crew in the blimp that hovers over the football field. High above the field, I see the big picture – who’s on the field, where the players are going, where the ball is coming from, and how the plays unfold. This panoramic view allows me to take in more information from which I gain a better understanding of what happened and why it happened.
Have a Broader View to See The Big Picture
While we cannot distance ourselves from our own stories, we can look at the bigger picture. When I work with people, I help them do this. After a detailed discussion about the client’s life experience, I ask about parents, grandparents, and sometimes great-grandparents. It’s amazing how this historical view can change the client’s current view.
My client, Sally is a good example of this. Sally, a lovely woman in her mid 50’s, came in because of anxiety and panic episodes. The panic episodes worsened over the past few months, soon after her mother’s death. After a thorough assessment, I asked about her childhood and her parents. She described her mother as “a saint,” and her father as “Satan.” She despised him, describing him as an, “uncaring, selfish, drunk.” She focused on how loving her mom was and how bad her dad was; how bad he made her feel and how he mistreated her. Now, the security and loving part of her life was gone and she was panicked.
Focusing on The Other Characters
I asked Sally to tell me her parents’ stories. She described her mom to be loving and kind despite all the tribulations she endured. Unenthusiastically, she talked about her father’s history. He was one of the older children raised in a large poor family. His dad, a heavy drinker, abandoned the family. He had to help out with the finances.
Apparently, Sally’s family went to church, which she added, “Seemed to do him no good.” He was a firefighter, got married and started a family. Then, he was stricken with a serious illness that impaired his health so he had to quit his job. After being off for a long time, he got a less than rewarding job and at that point, started drinking in excess. His bitterness and mean spirit, especially when he drank, caused a great deal of trouble for the family and especially Sally, who at one time adored him. He sorely disappointed her.
Retelling Sally’s Story Back to Her
I reviewed the story with Sally from my distant point of view. Looking at the big picture, we first talked about first responders; how there isn’t a whole lot of people who choose that field, how they don’t get paid very well, how necessary they are for our existence, and how the people who do that kind of work do it because of their passion for it. Their desire to help people is so great that they are willing to lay down their lives for others – a most selfless characteristic. “No one has greater love [nor stronger commitment] than to lay down his own life for his friends.” John 15:13
We went on to talk about how disappointing it must have been for her dad to have the job he loved taken away from him. His life was filled with losses (and these were the only ones Sally knew about) – the loss of his father, the loss of his families’ security, the loss of an infant daughter, and the loss of the job he loved. How does one overcome these severe losses? Loss always adds grief. When we talked about the grief process, we agreed that he could have easily been stuck in the process. In those days, therapy wasn’t popular and there weren’t the kinds of resources we have today for help and support. The cultural attitude was to “man up” and move on.
Sally’s Real Story
Grief is a miserable process. The denial, bargaining, anger, and depression phases of the grief cycle are inescapable when we suffer a loss, no matter how big or small. We grieve when we are disappointed and we are disappointed when we don’t get what we want. Sally’s dad didn’t get what he wanted and needed – just like Sally.
Sally and her father were more alike than she cared to admit, but after she looked at the bigger picture, she felt more compassion and empathy for her father. It didn’t change her situation and she still had to correct the effects from how she was treated, but compassion and empathy allowed her to forgive her father and gain more peace and satisfaction in her life. She was happier.
Change Your View, Change Your Story
When you tell your story, what do you see?
If you tell your story from your innermost viewpoint, you will have a limited view that will limit your reality. Your focus will be you and most likely how harmed you were. Open your view and think about the characters in your story. What are their stories?
You may see the less than ideal circumstances of their lives. However, their stories are not excuses for bad behaviors. They will give you more knowledge and understanding. From this you might learn the things that happened to you weren’t your fault and from this you can be happier with yourself.
Considering other characters’ stories gives you insight. The more knowledge and understanding you gain from their stories, the more you learn how to forgive. Even if the characters in your story don’t ask for forgiveness and you don’t believe they deserve it, the information you get opens you up to compassion and empathy which allows you to forgive which yields peace and happiness. When you forgive, you let go of the pain other people caused. You become the hero of your story and you are happy.
Seeing All Sides Paints a Happier Picture
If you have trouble seeing the other side(s) of your story, what is obstructing your view? Check for fear, stubbornness, and pride. Fear will keep you fighting, running, or paralyzed. Stubbornness will ruin your confidence and relationships. Pride will destroy your value, acceptance, and love. Remember, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18
Looking at all sides of your story lets you see through the eyes of others. It gives you more information for your mind to interpret and opens your heart to love you would have missed.