I just returned from a visit to family and friends in Canada. In twelve days, I spent time with many people in five cities. And stories abounded! Life stories, troubling incidents, and shared memories. The one unifying factor in all the stories was that everyone who experienced the story remembered it differently. Some of those differences were small, and some drastic.
We are all entitled to our stories, they are, after all, our experiences. No one can take our perceptions, perspectives, memories or expressions away from us, though many may try.
I'm sure you've had the experience of sitting with family members and finding that stories about a particular shared event vary greatly. Some folks are willing to go to great lengths to argue for the accuracy of their version. The problem is, there IS no accurate version. And, that's a big issue, especially in families. Experiencing the same events at different ages and stages provides a landscape that reaches far and wide, everyone with a different vantage point.
No one is right. No one has the corner on the truth. It is all in how you tell the story and what you are trying to achieve by giving the story further life. Children, especially under seven years of age, remember things from a feeling level because rational, linear thought does not develop and begin to operate until that age or beyond. Prior to that age, people describe things from a very self-centric sense. That's why young children believe that they were the cause of their parent's difficulties or divorces when that is highly unlikely. When people describe events from their early life, it is almost impossible for them to get outside of the feelings. They almost cannot imagine it differently, or even entertain that their were other valid points of view. It is very difficult for some to open themselves to that wide landscape of possibilities to help make sense of their version of the story.
Some simply want to hold onto their pain, which is a whole other thing. They want to use it to justify themselves. That's one approach. It removes many possibilities, but some will not move beyond it. Here's an example:
I was working with a family a while ago where the grown children were at odds with one another. There was a sizable age gap among the three, expanding over twelve years. It seemed that aside from a few very specific memories, these three could have lived in separate families growing up. There was that much difference in their stories. Hard to believe they grew up in the same house at all! The parents were somewhat mystified, as you can imagine.
Everyone felt isolated on their own "planets of reality." One problem with such mismatched realities is that they call for a decision: a decision to come to the present moment and decide to be a family, or not. Nursing old hurts is one way to go through life. Looking for allies for your hurts is also often part of the nursing, and is, of course, divisive to the family.
Opening to what is possible in this present moment and beyond is another possibility.
I asked one son in this family if he would like his father to hold him in the place of the rebellious, destructive teenager he had been, or, would he like his father to accept him as the successful businessman and loving father he is now? Of course, he wanted the latter.
My next question:
Then, are you willing to see your father as he is now, or are you going to hold him to the person he was on the day of your favorite, nursed story?
He did not want to answer and began his next sentence with that killer statement:
I pointed out the impossibility of holding on to the hurt and opening his arms to the possibility of a wonderful, adult relationship with his father. You cannot open your arms while holding something tight to your chest, can you? It was decision time.
I'd like to tell you that this family is now in great shape with a wonderful loving attitude towards the richness they have chosen to create together now that they are all adults. I can't. But, they have heard the possibilities. They have heard the choices. It is up to them. Will they continue to work with me, and one another? I hope so, but it will only occur if they want the possible more than the past.
Is any one of their stories right, accurate or truthful? No, but they are entitled to it.
Were they willing to escalate the conversation to almost fisticuffs to prove that rightness to each other? Yes.
Why? Because our stories shape our lives. We develop our ideas of ourselves through the ways we think we have been seen and treated...or, remember that we have been seen and treated. Every pair of eyes sees an event or relationship through the lens of their expectations, their past experiences, their age or stage of development, and their current condition and circumstances. A child sees an event differently than a parent. An abused wife sees an event as a prelude to abuse or a reprieve from abuse. A worker sees an event in light of its possible effect on his/her career. It is point of view, perspective, stage, or age.
We do need to have our feelings validated, as well as our right to our own experiences. No one has the right to take them from you. It is what you choose to do with them that makes all the difference.
The big questions are:
- Are our arms holding onto our grudges, hurts, pain and rightness, keeping us in the past?
- Or, are our arms available for reaching out, for embracing the possible relationships in our present life?
This is a life-changing decision!
If you need help with releasing your pain, especially in preparation for the family times of the holiday season, let's talk. I work with clients in my office, on the phone and through Skype video conferencing right from your own computer. CLICK HERE or call me at The Optimize Center in Escondido, CA 760.593.4604.