It’s usually a good thing to share your story. People want to know who you are, what makes you tick, why you’ve made the choices you’ve made. We like to hear about other people’s stories. I have yet to meet someone whose story does not inspire in some shape or form. Our stories are as unique to us, as is our DNA.
But not all stories are worth sharing. Some stories keep us stuck in a space that is negative and paralyzing. These are the “You won’t believe what happened to me the other day” stories. Whether it’s something your boss said to you, or something your co-worker did or how you got stuck in traffic and then the security line was really long and your TSA Preferred status had expired and you missed your flight and didn’t make it home in time for Friday family night. We’ve all done it. Something bad happens to us and we share the experience over and over and over again with anyone who will listen.
It happened to me a few days ago. I spent well over 20 minutes, I didn’t have, trying to get some information from the Social Security website, without any luck. I ended up having to call them in order to get the information I needed. A customer service agent answered the phone and asked me what I was calling about. I told him I was getting an error message on their website, I started to read the error message to him, he interrupted me and told me I didn’t need to read it to him. He then asked for my name, I started to spell it, he, once again, interrupted me and told me I didn’t need to spell it for him. I was taken aback by his abruptness so when he told me that he was going to shift to a different screen on his computer, I, with a bit of sarcasm, told him that “he didn’t need to tell me he was shifting to a different screen on his computer”.
I made the comment, tongue in cheek, with laughter in my voice, but he didn’t think it was funny. He proceeded to say, “thank you for calling the U.S. Social Security office, goodbye” and hung up on me!
Seriously, he hung up on me! I said “hello” into the phone a couple of times thinking it was a joke. How could he hang up on me? Why was it okay for him to be salty with me, but not for me to be salty with him?
I ended up calling back, got a different person this time, who was much better at her job than the previous representative. She got me what I needed and I was on my way.
The problem is that I had a visceral reaction to the way that I was treated. I took it personally and was offended by the unfairness of the situation. He knew I was dependent on him to get my needs met and, therefore, had all of the power in the situation. I didn’t know his name. I couldn’t give him or his supervisor feedback if I wanted to.
You might be thinking, it’s kind of funny, mildly entertaining, what’s the big deal? You are right. It’s not a big deal, but here’s how we make it one.
Had I been inclined to operate in my normal mode of operation. I would have shared that story with my husband, then my kids, then my friends and back to myself, repeatedly.
It feels good, in the moment, to share how we’ve been wronged with those who will commiserate with us. We want to hear that “Wow, what a jerk, I can’t believe that happened to you!” from our friends and family. It’s like we’re creating mini-therapy sessions by reenacting the crime scene.
Unfortunately, we are not. We are doing more harm than good. When we relive situations or incidents that generate negative feelings in us, we experience the same feelings every time we tell the story or think about it. In fact, that’s what happened to me as I wrote the story here. I went back to the negative feelings I experienced in that moment, in my mind.
It may not happen at the same level as when we first experienced the situation, but it’s enough to make us wallow and dwell.
It can keep us from moving forward in a productive way. Retelling stories like these can prevent us from getting into a positive, inspired space that allows us to create and grow. It can trigger self-limiting beliefs or create new ones. It really doesn’t help us to continually visit a negative story, no matter how entertaining it is.
Typically, after an appropriate amount of time has passed, we get over it. We get over whatever caused us the grief to begin with. However, the more you repeat the story, the longer it takes to get over it.
So, what do you do? If you find that you’re frequently retelling negative stories, notice it, first and foremost. Next time, you experience something irritating or annoying, reflect on whether your inclination is to share that occurrence with others. And notice what happens to you when you do.
If you are someone who has formed this habit, you can rewire your way out of this.
For starters, allow the feelings to hit when something unfortunate happens, whatever they are, sit with them, go punch a pillow (or scream into it), cry, do something to allow the emotion to happen, in a healthy way.
Next, have empathy for the person on the other end. Maybe my Social Security guy was having a really tough day, maybe he had suffered from a big loss or had been treated rudely by the customer before me. Picture something that allows you to walk in his shoes and understand his point of view.
Find something about the situation to be grateful for. Gratitude is a secret weapon. It can divert us from negativity in so many ways. In my case, I am grateful that he hung up on me instead of swearing or yelling at me! I am also grateful that the next person I spoke to was kind and super helpful.
If you still feel the need to share the story with someone, pick one person, allow yourself one time to share it. Then decide to never share it again, even with yourself. It’s over, let it go, move on.
It’s amazing how quickly these types of irritations end up in the rear view mirror when we decide to move on from them and don’t revisit them.
I want to make one thing clear, I am talking about minor situations, I am not talking about traumatic events. If you have suffered from a traumatic situation in your work or personal life, get the help you need from a qualified resource. Harassment, abuse, accidents require attention and support. Trauma is not something to be taken lightly.
When it comes to minor irritations, the more we use this “get over it” muscle, the stronger it gets, and before we know it, we are less and less impacted by day to day irritations. We are able to forgive and forget easily and continue to move towards our goals. We stop sweating the small stuff. We don’t allow speed bumps to turn into bigger obstacles. We charge ahead, we move forward, oh, and we’re just plain happier.