As children, we were all told, “Don’t tell stories” – meaning, don’t lie. That line, in and of itself, is a bit of a lie, isn’t it?
As adults, we’re still telling stories, and lies about the stories. They are really fairy tales. There’s a helpless and virtuous victim, and an evil villain. And usually we have the starring role. But unlike the stories by Grimm, they’re the “truth” (there’s the lie about the story).
Here’s a story I told myself: Once upon a time there was a sweet, innocent girl who met Prince Charming (PC). After living in the enchanted castle, PC showed his true colors – selfish and irresponsible. And they lived miserably ever after.
This fairy tale is convenient for me, as I am always the heroine, never the villain. I like it that way. I don’t want to think of myself as the bad guy. However, like the old game show, Truth or Consequences, if I don’t come up with the truth, I have to suffer the consequences. The truth is that when I believe someone else is mistreating me, actually I am the one mistreating myself or others (see I’m Rubber and You’re Glue). The consequence then is that I am creating pain and unhappiness, for no truly good reason.
If I believe PC is selfish, it is really I who am selfish. In this case, I am judging PC and becoming bitter and angry, and you know PC is going to hear about it. But by locking myself into my story, I am unable to move past this belief and see his goodness and generosity. Instead, I invest in the story that is bringing both of us unhappiness, even as part of me is indulging in a self-serving feeling of rightousness.
If I believe PC is irresponsible, it is really I who am irresponsible. I am ignoring the ways he is responsible, and respecting and valuing him for that contribution. Instead I am focusing on the ways he is not taking care of me. So, I am being both selfish AND irresponsible.
Leave that princess to the evil dragon – he can have her.
I have also completely believed stories I have told myself about how I will not get what I need from others (Self (un)fulfilling Reality). Until I can discover and act upon the truth – that I can get what I need – I am stuck in unhappiness and looking for others to blame.
PC and I are not the sole beneficiaries of this fantasy game. I may conjure smaller, less consequential stories about others that may affect my work or casual relationships. For example, I have created stories where I have believed in, and acted upon, assumptions that I have made regarding other people’s motive or situation. I may imagine their motive is not well-intentioned or make unfavorable assumptions about their situation. The consequence of such lies is that if I bring any mistrust, judgment and disrespect to the conversation, I am likely to make the other person defensive and disrespectful. “Aha! I knew they were cads!” But I just made my own fantasy into reality. Who is the cad now?
What if, instead of investing in my lopsided fantasy, I treat my assumption as a single theory among many plausible theories, instead of a concrete reality? If I then approach the conversation with curiosity (and one of the more forgiving theories) instead of judgment, we might actually uncover the truth of our mutual respect and productivity.
Truth or consequences.
How about the truth for a change, instead of the usual mindless, futile and painful consequences? How about I let go of the story that, if I cling to it, merely brings me unhappiness and conflict? How about I let go of the story because it’s untrue and unfair? Isn’t it time to stop my destructive fantasies about myself and others?
Ask yourself: Who would you be if you let go of your fairy tale? Who would PC or your colleague be without your villain and princess? Your answer may be a huge relief to you.