Rev. Suzanne Marlatt Stewart
The main reason several people can go through the same experience but interpret it differently is because, subconsciously, we tell ourselves stories pretty much every waking minute of our lives. And these stories we tell ourselves don’t just change how we feel, they change what we see, what we experience, and what we know to be true. Each of us may enter a shared experience with a different story going through our mind, and our unique story—our inner dialog—alters the way we feel. Thus, each of us exits this shared experience with a different perspective on what just happened, and sometimes these differences literally make all the dissimilarity in the world.
In a way, the stories we tell ourselves narrow our perspective. For example, up your hands around your eyes. You can then see only straight ahead, not your peripheral sight. When we enter an experience with a story about how life is supposed to be, that tends to be all we see. This occurrence is a reminder to me of an old parable in which a group of blind men touch an elephant for the very first time to learn what it’s like. Each one of them feels a different part of the elephant, but only that one part, such as the leg, trunk, side, or tusk. Then the men eagerly compare notes and quickly learn that they are in complete disagreement about what an elephant looks like.
We have all had several past experiences, which may include the death of a parent, a sibling, or a child. Some of us have dealt with infidelity. Some of us have been fired from our jobs. Some of us have been discriminated against because of our gender or race. And when we enter a new experience that triggers prominent memories of our own painful story from the past, it shifts our perspective in the present—it skews and refocuses it.
Many of the biggest misinterpretations in life could be avoided if we would simply take the time to ask, “What else could this mean?” “The story I’m telling myself …” can be applied to any tough life situation or any situation in which a troubling thought is getting the best of you.
For example, perhaps a friend forgets you had a luncheon date. You’re feeling upset because you’re obviously not a high enough priority to him or her. When you catch yourself feeling this way, ask yourself:
1. Can I be certain this story is true?
2. How do I feel and behave when I tell myself this story?
3. What’s one other possibility that might also make the ending to this story true?
“The story I’m telling myself …” and the three related questions can give you a tool for revisiting and reframing troubling situations that arise in your daily life. Detach yourself from the stories you’ve been subconsciously telling yourself. Observe without speculating. Change the way you see the world. Maybe you’ll start experiencing things you never experienced before. Maybe you’ll learn lots of new lessons you needed to learn.
It’s about accepting what happens every time, being mindful, and making the very best of it.
The way you think about things makes all the difference!
Rev. Suzanne, a resident of SaddleBrooke, is an independent writer and speaker. She was ordained nondenominational, representing all faiths, and her focus is “inclusivity.” Email: [email protected]