Can you remove yourself from the center of the story

I particularly like the writing of Leo Babauta as he gets to the heart of the matter. In his article, Mental Badassery: Becoming Aware of the Stories We Tell Ourselves, Leo points out eloquently that we as we go about our day, we the tell our stories and ultimately we see the world as if we are the center of the story, the center of our narrative or, as Leo says, our movie.

By nature, all of us are storytellers and much of our work as clinicians and interventionists is listening to clients’ stories and helping them Unhook and rewrite the story.

Part of healing is first to become curious about the stories we are telling ourselves and see how, if at all, we can adjust the story or tag line.

Those of you who work with parents of struggling teens know that they think about how their son’s or daughter’s behavior is effecting them. We hear they didn’t get into the right school; and parents are embarrassed, baffled, angry, often sad and disappointed with them and we are in upset. Much of our work is spent helping others remove themselves from the story and allowing them to stand back and allow others to experience their own story.

 As Leo suggests, we are not really removed from the story, but have the capacity to become more understanding.

Recently, I worked with a wonderful family whose son has mental health problems and was being followed by a local agency. At times he was quite functional, while at other times he retreated. He was able to hold a job, live on his own, etc. But his parents deeply wanted him to do something different.

They wanted him to get a higher level of treatment, yet he was doing well living alone, working at a coffee shop, and so on. Their fears did not allow them to be in the moment. The parents, a most agreeable pair, were both willing to do their own work. Doing their own intensives, they took a look at their attachment styles and the way they were in the center of everything. The beauty of these parents is they are learning to navigate new ways, supporting their son in a way that he can understand.

Leo Babauta tells us that when we go about our day, we tell ourselves a story about what’s happening… and at the center of that narrative is a single person.

Ourselves.

When I talk to myself about how so-and-so is inconsiderate or treated me badly, when I tell myself that it’s OK to procrastinate because I’m tired and not in the mood… I’m at the center of this movie. It’s an ongoing story about my life and everything around me, with me at the center.

I’m sure you can relate — you’re at the center of your movie as well. It’s natural, and there’s nothing wrong with doing this.

But some difficulties can arise from this self-centered view of the world:

We interpret other people’s actions as it relates to us, so that they are helping or harming us… Giving us what we want or getting in the way of what we want.

Except their actions aren’t really about us — their actions are about them, because they are at the center of their own stories. When we interpret their self-centered actions through the lens of our self-centered view, their actions often make no sense and frustrate, hurt, or infuriate us.

When someone makes a comment that we take as an attack on something about ourselves, we often feel the need to defend ourselves. “I’m a good person,” we think, “and they shouldn’t imply that I’m not.” But this interpretation is just a self-centered way of looking at it. We could also see it as saying something about the other person. And if we try to understand where they’re coming from, instead of seeing what it says about us, then we’ll be less defensive or offended.

We interpret everything around us — from bad traffic to Internet comments to terrorist attacks — by thinking about how it affects us. “This sucks (for me),” we think. But we could also remove ourselves from this story and just see that there are things happening in the world, and be curious about them, try to understand them, and see that they are not all about us.

While it’s natural to interpret our world this way, you can see that it can cause problems, inhibit understanding and empathy, and make us unhappy at times.

So what can we do?

What would the story be without us in it? For me, that story becomes something like:

  1. Things are happening — how interesting! What can be learned from them? What can be understood?
  2. Someone else is doing something or talking, and it’s probably about them. How can I understand them better?
  3. There is difficulty and unhappiness in what other people are saying and doing. How can I feel compassion for them and offer them love?

When I remember to do this — and I very, very often don’t — it lifts the difficulty that I’ve been facing internally and shifts my focus to understanding and empathizing with other people, seeing how I can give them compassion.

Of course, I’m not really removed from the story. I’m still there, yet just not necessarily at the center of it. Instead, I focus more on my interconnectedness with everyone else, everything else, and remember that they have supported me in becoming the person I am and I find that I can support them as well.

How have you applied this to your own life? How do you help your clients learn to take the focus off of themselves to let other people in their lives have their own stories?