Feelings & Stories

Feelings & Stories

This image shows two figures and illustrates the Observable Facts (anything a camera would record), the Story-Free Feelings (the sensations and emotions felt by the two people), and the Stories (the subjective thoughts, ideas and beliefs people have about themselves, others and their experiences.)When we learn to distinguish between feelings and stories, we increase our ability to create space between our experience and our observation of our experience. This gives us an opportunity to make wise adult choices in  our responses to events.

Story words that masquerade as feelings: abandoned, rejected, dismissed, unimportant, betrayed.

It’s tempting to use these words to describe our feelings about events because they are so strong. Yet they require action from another person, and thus represent our stories about the other person’s motivations rather than our feelings in response to the observable facts of the situation.

Sometimes we get a chance to share our stories with the other person and hear What’s True, What’s Not True, and What’s Also True in response. At other times, we don’t have a cooperative relationship with the person and are unable to share our stories and trust that we will be treated with compassion or given a truthful response. In such circumstances, making distinctions between our feelings about a situation and our stories about a situation can help us accept the unacceptable and our powerlessness over both our feelings and knowing the truth about the other person’s motivations.

Big Picture Stories

A Lesson from Cooperative Communication: Telling Ourselves Big-Picture Stories

Here’s a sample lesson from the Cooperative Communication course. I’m posting it here to give more folks a chance to see the course materials.

If you have questions or comments, please post them below. I’m delighted to learn what you’re thinking!

Types of Stories

When we tell ourselves stories about other people, very often the story we tell ourselves revolves around ourselves and our experience. The advantage to this tactic is that we have some power over a story if we are involved. If someone’s story is all about them and their experience, we have little or no power or influence over their story. Because we are trained to avoid our feelings of powerlessness, the idea that someone’s story could have nothing to do with us may be frightening or overwhelming. Yet most people are having their own experiences and telling themselves stories that put themselves at the center of the action. When we can differentiate between our stories about ourselves (self-centric stories) and stories that are genuinely about other people (other-centric stories) we are much more likely to create a whole picture that includes everyone (a big-picture story.)

Trust Formula from Nancy Shanteau's Trust-Building Worksheet. Illustrations by Patrick Stein.

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