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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

“The gaps – the not knowing – brings pain and discomfort”

(Brené Brown)

Trying to make sense of our world and relationships can be really hard work, emotive and confusing. In an attempt to bring about clarity, this can inadvertently draw us into the temptation to (subconsciously) make up a narrative of our own in order to avoid pain and discomfort.

Recently, there was an event in my diary that I was really looking forward to, and had been for some weeks. I was meeting up with a really wonderful friend, someone I can be my genuine, authentic self with…or so I thought. The night before we were due to meet, I received a message cancelling.

In that moment of disappointment, I felt a surge of many emotions: anger, loss, upset, resentment, insecurity, rejection, self-doubt. I don’t enjoy those feelings so it was much easier for me to lean into blame and anger… How could they do that at the last minute? Did they not care about how I would feel? Was I not important enough to them? Did they not realise how disappointed I would feel? Was the reason for cancelling even true? I got busy to avoid thinking about it and stomped around, letting my irritation show it’s ugly face!

But it is so easy to misinterpret a text, an email, a voice message, a letter...

A student recently shared his story: "I have a really inspiring and friendly teacher who is super-motivating and I so look forward to those lessons. She seems to value what I think and say which has made me feel more confident and interested in the subject. A couple of weeks ago, she just suddenly seemed to change. She's been ignoring me when I put up my hand, and I don't think she likes me any more. I don't know what I have done but now I am dreading the lessons and feel anxious." He wanted to avoid thinking about it because the thoughts were uncomfortable and painful, but the anxiety was there anyway.

The problem with all those responses is that none of them serve us well! Brené

advises that we should get curious and own, rather than avoid, any negative emotions of hurt, disappointment, sadness etc. Acknowledge those feelings but also leave room for the possibility that you may have got it wrong.

Avoidance coping (such as getting busy or numbing emotions) temporarily makes us feel better but in the long run, makes us feel worse: “what you resist, persists!”. So what can we do about it? Addressing the concern rather than running from it…


1. Notice the thoughts you are having – what are you telling yourself? Do you know for sure they are true? Is there evidence to prove this?

2. Be curious…is there another way to view this? Is there a possibility that something is going on for the other person as opposed to you having been rejected for some reason.

3. Is there someone you could share these thoughts with before jumping to conclusions?

4. Express the negative emotions in a healthy way, through exercise, journalling, meditation, prayer or other forms of self-care.

5. Even if it turns out that you were right all along – they were lying, or trying to hurt you – you will have improved your mental health by reframing the incident at the time.

You might find this short video helpful:

So, going back to my original illustration – what happened next?

I noticed the emotions that were coming up and sat with those, even noticing I felt tearful. That’s OK, it is real. I recognised I was very tired and feeling more sensitive than I might ordinarily feel and decided to have a soak in the bath and an early night. I knew there was no evidence to support the thoughts I was having and that it would be unwise to respond when I was tired. The next morning I felt able to reply warmly and kindly, which then opened up a dialogue with the friend. It turned out there was illness in the family and my friend was just as disappointed as I was.

For the student - he reframed the situation by wondering if something in her own life was stressing her out and acknowledged he might have got the wrong end of the stick - there was no evidence that he had done anything wrong so went into the next lesson less anxious. As it happened the teacher was back to her normal, cheerful self again, but even if she hadn't been, the student realised he did not need to assume he was at fault.

What would you do in this situation…

You have had a rubbish week and suggested meeting up with a close friend. They haven’t even have the courtesy to reply to you. Clearly they don’t care? You feel angry and rejected and decide you will avoid them for a bit or maybe consider sending an abrupt message … The story you are telling yourself only serves you to make you feel worse about yourself and about your friend and spent far too much time is spent over-thinking the scenario to no good purpose.

What next? How could you reframe this? And what self-care could you put in place?

Perhaps the friend’s mobile fell down the loo! Or they had a family emergency? Or they were busy when they read your message and then totally forgot to answer later.

Perhaps you could send a friendly “chaser” message? Make a plan for what to do next that doesn’t involve jumping to conclusions. Do something or yourself that will lift your spirits – a walk in the garden or something creative maybe? Lean into gratitude: Attitude of gratitude (

What will you do next time you are tempted to tell yourself a story? Please do drop me a message or an email. I would love to hear from you.

Further info:

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