This week’s podcast is all about the stories we tell ourselves when things go wrong.
Brené Brown calls these stories our “shitty first drafts” – like the first drafts of novels that require dozens of rewrites before they’re of any use to anyone.
Much like those first drafts, our stories are cobbled together, the first thoughts we reach for. They’re nearly always incomplete or incorrect and they’re almost certainly unhelpful.
This weekend, we had a bit of a family drama. Our daughter, Mini, lied to us and stayed faithful to the lie until another child’s parent confirmed that what she was saying was definitely untrue. It shocked me that, despite my coaxing and comforting, she still chose to lie to my face – and that’s when my shitty first draft story kicked in.
NOTE: This episode contains adult language.
The story I was telling myself
In case you don’t already know, my daughter is adopted. I met her the day after her seventh birthday and we’ve been a family for just under five years now.
Trust is something we’ve never been able to take for granted. We have worked incredibly hard to build what trust we have but it’s nowhere near what I imagine birth parents experience with their children (this is clearly another story I’m telling myself).
The story I was telling myself after the lie fiasco was that there was no trust between us, that she didn’t love me and she was happy to lie to my face because our relationship meant nothing to her.
Why these stories are so damaging (and what to do about it)
If I believe that story, where do I go from there? What happens to our relationship?
The trouble with these stories is that they lead us down roads with few options – all of which are usually bad.
Accepting the feelings behind the stories can be helpful but then it’s time to examine them and move on to a more useful story.
In ‘Rising Strong’, Brené Brown suggests asking 3 questions:
- What more do I need to learn or understand about this situation?
- What more do I need to learn or understand about the people in this story?
- What more do I need to learn or understand about myself?
These questions help us move past the shitty first drafts and create a richer, more compelling and useful story – one that helps us uncover better options and move forwards more easily.
In my case, I thought about how heavy handed we were with my daughter to begin with and how compelled she might have felt to lie. Once the first lie was out there, changing her story was more difficult. If she hadn’t felt the need to lie in the first place, the additional lies wouldn’t have mounted up either.
Mini has also experienced massive trauma in her early life and this can have massive effects on the brain, making it more difficult to regulate stress responses. That means she’s far more likely to panic and make a poor choice than other kids. Knowing that makes it my responsibility to help her stay calm.
These are the kinds of details that come out of asking Brené Brown’s questions and they’re the kinds of details that create wiggle room and provide options for how to move forward towards the trusting relationship I want with her.
If you’re facing something challenging that causes you to run your shitty first draft story, try using these questions and see how they shift your focus and allow you to see past the story.