Downplay the Drama

When something out of the ordinary happens in our lives, we have the choice of how to react. Sometimes, what has happened really surprises us, but often it doesn’t. Once we are over the initial shock, we can more carefully choose our reaction to the events, decide how we want to think and talk about it.

Part of choosing our reaction to an incident — or something that might become a skeleton in the closet — is deciding whether to increase the drama of the situation or not. I think you know what “increasing the drama” means. It means making the story more exciting, and describing the people in extremes — as villains, idiots, or heroes. Dramatizations are always given in a conspiratorial tone, in hushed, animated voices around the water cooler, so to speak.

What does telling a story with extra drama do? Why is increasing the drama a bad idea? When we add drama to a story, we increase the hardships, make struggles more difficult and problems insurmountable. Injustice reigns in big drama. Without realizing it, we are emphasizing how life is hard, things never go smoothly, and people mistreat each other. There is often a strong, imbalanced morality overlaid on the story. Living in this vibration makes us feel frustrated, critical, angry, and judgmental.

When we choose to downplay the drama as we relive the events, we reduce the struggles and judge people less harshly. Our overall tone is “it wasn’t that bad” or “it was a little mess up” rather than the overexaggerated, dramatized version. We tend to feel that things are looking up, people around us are competent, and problems beatable.

How to do it

So how can you learn to reduce the drama of a situation? Here are some things to think about.

– Stick to the facts. When telling the story of what happened, keep it straight-up boring.

– Become aware of what words you choose when you tell the story of what happened. Think of it as a story that can be told in many different ways.

– Catch yourself before you start to talk in black-and-white.

– Don’t vilify (“villainize”) people. Sure, they made a mistake, but it isn’t about their core character.

– If you enjoy dramatizing, do so with something funny or helpful rather than a bad event. Be a stand-up comedian, not a bad-news reporter.

– There is a balance between doing things in the big-city anonymous way and the small-town gossipy way. Look for that balance.

In a non-judgmental way, watch how other people tell stories. Can you see them getting dramatic and adding to their own frustration? Now see that property in yourself, laugh about it, and curb it before it gets out of hand!

Stop Telling Negative Stories

The other day, I spent two hours with a Frenchman. He was originally from Quebec, actually, although he didn’t seem to be proud of that fact any more — in his opinion, most Quebecers were slime. Actually, he’d been spited by people in every province in Canada, it seemed, at various work places and on the street.

This incredibly unlucky fellow told me, in non-chronological order, his entire life story. And what a life he’d had! According to him, if you work in the oil patch, you’ll never get paid on time. If you work for farmers, you’ll be paid on time, but most of them don’t speak English (they mixed it up with various European languages). He had complaints about basically every industry, job or ethnicity he had ever worked for, including heated warnings about several specific individuals. It only sounded like he had one or two good employers over all those years. Although, initially, I was compassionately listening to his life story, it seemed like a lot of complaining to me. Later on, I was listening with fascination, not about his story, but about how his attitude — his vibration — was coming true in his life! It was so crystal clear to me that his angry demeanour was manifesting in his physical life everywhere he went.

Another man I have met recently was telling me about a certain injustice that he witnessed. It was obviously a huge source of frustration, and I initially thought that it had just happened. Not so. The situation had unfolded months before, but the way he told the story, it sounded like yesterday.

Have you ever heard the saying

“A sad story should never be retold.”

I wonder what would happen if we changed the way we tell stories to others? What if we made a pact with ourselves to allow one week to retell a negative story and after that to never speak of it again? During that week, we could go hoarse retelling it, but after that, we had to bite our lip and tell a neutral (factual) or happy story instead. There would be no limit in how long or how many times you could retell a purely* happy story.

Want to join me in this experiment? Clearly, if you have a very serious skeleton, you will probably need more than a week to process it properly, in particular if you are in counseling about it. But for smaller, everyday stuff, or negative stories not directly involving us, that story would have to die — or change drastically — after a week. If you can convert it into a happy story, then keep it rolling!

*For the no-ending clause to apply, the story must have no villains, no victims, and be completely free of sarcasm/cynicism. 🙂

The Uncertainty Principle

I was thinking lately about the Uncertainty Principle. It is a concept in physics, and before you tune me out because that word (physics) scares you, let me explain. It’s a very simple idea.

The Uncertainty Principle says that you can’t know everything about a particle, and I am going to make the analogy that you can’t know everything about a situation. If it happened to you — and I’m thinking of skeletons here — then you know a lot of the details, facts, feelings, etc. But you may never know why that painful thing happened to you. On the other hand, you may have a very good idea why a situation unfolded, and in that case, you won’t know very much about the details of the outcome. You may think you know, but you don’t.

I share this because I hope it will help you come to peace with things in your past and help you to stop searching for “why.” You simply may never know why. You may spend a great deal of energy looking for the reason why, but it is like banging your head against the glass — it will not get you anywhere. It is more helpful to change the story that you are telling yourself about the situation, to reframe it into something that has a more positive spin and acknowledges that you have had many positive experiences as a result of that particular skeleton in your closet. That helps you dissolve any shame and release resentment — how can you resent something that was ultimately for your good? How you talk to yourself is very important (that’s why I have Tell Yourself This affirmations at the end of each chapter in my book). How you center yourself is very important.

So, accept that there are things that you don’t know, can’t know, and will never know. And that’s okay. We were never meant to be omnipotent. We were meant to live in the moment and wherever there is loveliness, beauty or joy, to experience it fully, deeply, and without reservation.