During my therapy sessions I often ask, “Would a video of your life match what you are telling me?”
Therapy sessions are rife with patients who’ve sold themselves a bill of goods. A graph of their actual lives would look like a stock market chart––a series of highs and lows, including severe peaks and valleys. But they don’t see it that way. Instead they focus on wonderful descriptions of family members, friends and others who have touched their lives. Talk about creativity.
It happens all the time. C’mon, making your life sound interesting doesn’t camouflage reality. You’ve told the story to yourself so many times that you believe it’s true. You’re hooked on it.
Stories we tell ourselves don’t change how we feel. They alter our perception of reality. If ten people witness a particular event, several will describe what they saw differently. And the stories will have more bells and whistles over time.
Then there are dejected patients who sit with their chin attached to their chest during therapy. “Why open the blinds, it’s always gloomy outside?” a patient asked. I replied, “Have you forgotten the good things you’ve experienced?” I said, “You are not a failure. The world isn’t against you.” I encouraged him to take a different perspective, see things in a different light. “You are more accomplished than you think.”
Patients and therapists have to be on the same page. I tell my patients, “You will have a better understanding of reality and feel a lot happier. But, in order to get there we have a little work to do. The details of your present life matters the most. You can’t have a good day if you’re hell-bent on telling yourself otherwise.”
In a way, the self-talk we accept narrows our perspective. The story we tell tends to be all we see. If you let a negative past experience narrow your perspective of today, a defensive reaction takes over. We aren’t comfortable with uncertainty. Our mind conveniently triggers a cozy story we enjoy telling.