Updated: Apr 4, 2019
We all love a good story: books, plays, tv and movies. We love them so much that we even tell them to ourselves, but not for entertainment.
A man tells himself the reason his boss has been treating him distantly, impersonally is because he is going through a difficult time (with the economic down-turn), but that his job is secure, that he is essential for the company’s success.
A woman tells herself that her relationship is solid, that they are deeply in love, soul mates, and that his increasing distance is just stress from work.
How often do people tell themselves a story?
That noise in the car; it’s probably nothing.
The Roof? It will be okay for a few more months.
Chest pains? No, they weren't that serious.
Self-stories are all about protecting ourselves both from an unpleasant truth, as well as the need to take action.
And, we never tell ourselves a story when we are okay with our reality -- never. We have no need for one.
Of course, everyone agrees that accepting a distasteful truth keeps us from being caught short, caught by surprise or caught devastated (and that it puts us in that enviable position of strength, a place from which we can act).
The problem is that our stories are so much a part of us, it can be difficult to realize when we are telling ourselves one; especially difficult because besides, do we really want to know?
For those who do, the fastest way is to step into reality's truth slowly.
By using the process below, that man can ask his boss directly, find he is to be terminated and begin a job search today. The woman, rather than dragging out a failing relationship, can free herself to find the right guy, and facing the car, the roof and those chest pains (and having them diagnosed) is better than not—always.
The Reality... of Avoiding Reality
Jan and I had been friends forever, and on one of our usual walks, she was talking about her fiancé: how much he cared about her and how relieved she was, finally, to be in a good relationship.
When she paused, I asked her, “So, what is wrong?”
She looked perplexed and shook her head.
I took a deep breath and said, “When you talk about him, your voice is, um, too cheery; and it has, well, an edge to it.”
She shook her head again and asked, “What are you talking about?”
Later that night, she called and immediately said, “He won’t talk to me.”
I began to ask, but she was already saying, “We talk about absolutely everything superficial, but when I bring up something like his feelings for me, or having children, or even sex, he suddenly changes the subject or becomes very busy.”
Over the next few days, she kept coming back to her problem and eventually realized that she was telling herself a story. A story she desperately wanted to be true. A story that helped hide a frustrating reality that she did not want to face (a breakup and dating again).
Sometime after that revelation, we were grabbing a quick coffee when she said, “Admitting the reality under my story was hard, but it allowed me to make a much-needed change.”
Before I could ask if she was single again, she added, “I think it might be your turn.”
I frowned and asked what she meant.
She crossed her arms and said: “Before, when I talked about my fiancé, my voice and manner were different. When you talk about your writing, you are different.
Cautiously, I asked again what she meant.
She leaned forward, arms on the table and said, “I know how much you want to be a successful writer, but… well, at the beginning of a project, you sound excited and talk as if it were already a success; but I rarely hear that it has sold or even finished.”
I glanced at my watch and was relieved to see that I had to leave, but Jan’s words stayed with me. I knew they were true but did not know what to do about it.
Over the following weeks, I began to see my story: that writing was a tough market; that my progress was as fast as could be expected; and that success was coming. I just had to be patient.
The reality? I was not writing nearly as much as was necessary, and I tended to let projects languish. I was also putting off difficult phone calls to editors.
It was during my struggle with this, that I realized I was telling myself yet another story, about a good relationship I had with my children.
Although we talked weekly, and sometimes got together, the reality was that they never called me first; and whether on the phone or in person, they only shared the surface of their lives.
The next time Jan and I met, I told her about my children. She said that she had also been looking at other parts of her life, and in her words, “It seems that when reality matches my desire, I don’t have a story. I don’t need one.”
I have more thinking to do about this, but one thing I know: admitting reality admits the possibility of a positive change.
I guess this is the part where I am supposed to tell you to "Just do it! Confront your stories. Face the truth. Accept reality!!
But I can’t. We can’t. Because—
It is so Painful
Denial: the act of seeing what is not in order to avoid what is.
A car suddenly jumped out from a side street. The moment the driver saw me and my motorcycle, the instant she realized her mistake, she looked in the opposite direction (and never looked back).
Although some people use the word denial as an accusation, is it really so bad?
After all, nature took the trouble to hardwire us for survival, and isn’t denial just another form of self-preservation, another strategy for getting through life? Why would the woman in that car, or anyone else faced with pain, want to step wide-eyed into the harsh, cold, reality of it all, especially when the cocoon of denial is so warm and comforting?
You are probably already on your feet arguing that denial makes for an insecure foundation, for ineffective living, and you would be right; but there is one overriding truth that cannot be argued.
In most situations, for most of the time, we can do nothing about our denial—nothing—because of one blinding question: What denial?
Those two words are powerful enough to lock in what is (desperately?) needed and lock out everything else, and no mountain of clear logic nor ocean of passionate rhetoric will move us to see until we are ready.
And yes, most denial lasts longer than a momentary flinch from an oncoming motorcycle.
The crash? It was so close I pulled over and sat on the curb shaking. She kept driving, probably convincing herself that everything was fine, A-Okay; what motorcycle?
Self-honesty? Effective living? Sure, why not? But until that glorious moment when the fog lifts, the sun comes out and our eyes finally open, all we can do is what we have always done.
Facing what we do not want to face is often faster if we go slower. Remember, we only describe reality to ourselves when we do not want to know the truth.
So, start by giving yourself permission to write (just write) what you have been telling yourself about your reality (with no need to do anything else).
Once written, set it out on the kitchen table, under the remote (or in any conspicuous place), and go on with your life.
Each time you see it, you will remember and be one step closer to the truth, but with NO PRESSURE to do anything about it.
This way, in your own time, you will stand up and take charge of that part of your life.
And each time that you take action, you will increase your inner-strength, as well as create a better life.
More Self-Discipline? Absolutely Not!
So many of us push to do too much. And then later? Find ourselves up too late with "just a few more minutes" of entertainment.
We delay yet another meal. And then later. Eat/drink what we know we will regret.
We also get excited about a positive change. And then later resist it (and sometimes quit).
Really, I thought there was something wrong with me (for not having enough self-discipline or will power).
Many years later, I finally realized that more will power and self-discipline only bring more pain (and sooner quitting).
Yes! It was my approach that was wrong. Not me.
Free: 4 simple steps to calming your inner-struggle (and completing your resolutions)
The Power of Becoming Your Own Best Friend
More on facing reality:
How to Face Reality and Make Peace with Yourself (Oprah)
The Art of Facing Reality
Facing reality brings inner-strength. So does never being defensive again.
The very foundation of personal improvement is self-care/self-love. At this link: