Today I’m delighted to welcome back Erin Brown Conroy back to the blog, in the second of her three-part series on finding purpose in the midst of our mess. Last week she introduced the topic…today in part two she investigates & expands on this. Over to Erin:
Last blog post, we talked about how writers use messes to create a good story. Messes can serve a purpose, making the Hero of a story learn, grow, and become story-worthy. The Hero’s messes can serve him well.
Our messes can serve us well, too.
While God is the Author of our lives, you and I use our free will to either make messes or fix them. Just like the author who has the power to re-write a story’s ending, the good news is that as long as we have breath, you and I have the power to re-write our stories.
Take a look at these ten messes that we tend to get ourselves into. And, by the way, storywriters—you can use this as a guide to create messes for your characters (and then to get the characters out of the mess, for a satisfying ending).
Don’t be fooled: This stuff is for all of us, not just writers. Take a good look at these messes for what they are. Find what mess you tend to be in (yes, we all get in messes). You don’t have to stay in the mess.
Grow. (Check out and do The Right Thing.)
MESS #1: Rehearsing the negative in our minds.
When you rehearse only negative, your reality becomes negative. Negative thoughts distort our lives. Like the pull of gravity on a ball rolling down a hill, once negative thoughts have momentum, it’s hard to stop the thoughts.
Tony Robbins, life coach and one of the most highly regarded self-growth speakers across the world, says that “the words we attach to our experience become our experience.”
Negative self-talk creates a negative experience. Our words are powerful. Once begun, focusing on the problem can be a hard habit to break.
The Right Thing: At every moment in time, both the positive and negative exist. Sure, the negative might appear to outweigh the positive. But our focus is always our choice. Make it a daily habit to internally voice positives, finding the positive angle to the issue. Don’t be fooled: Finding the positive takes practice. Purposeful effort. You’re going to have to commit to a positive attitude—and remind yourself every morning—in order to make it a habit.
You and I have a choice. Will we grumble and complain, focusing on what’s wrong? Or will we take the positive piece and make it larger? When you and I purposefully, intentionally rehearse the positives, just like Tony said, the positive becomes our experience.
MESS #2: Stuffing hurt.
When someone says or does something that hurts us, ignoring the pain only creates resentment. Resentment keeps the hurt alive, active, and dangerous.
When we experience more hurts (because, hey, if you’re breathing, hurt happens), we tend to “keep a list.” Lists make hurts grow.
Keeping lists creates an emotion called disdain. According to John Gottman, professor emeritus in psychology known for his work on marital stability and relationships, disdain kills intimate relationships.
The Right Thing: Stop saying you’re not angry. You are. Stop saying your anger isn’t a problem. It is.
Find healthy ways to get the anger out on the table, to get rid of it in a healthy way. Talk to trustworthy people. Get advice from wise counsel. Check your thoughts related to the hurts. What words in your head are stirring up the anger?
And, for goodness’ sake, check your thoughts daily. Human beings are masters at creating un-true thoughts. We can imagine a problem, stir trouble, and blow just about anything out of proportion—all with our thoughts. Make sure your hurt isn’t self-inflicted—through wrongful, untrue thinking or false reasoning.
MESS #3: Burning relational bridges, especially when hurt or angry.
When we’re hurt and angry, we don’t see life as it truly is. Anger taints reality.
In our tainted view, the urge to burn a relational bridge (saying or doing something to hurt another deeply) can be strong.
But bridge-burners beware: What is said or done in anger can’t ever be taken back. Neither you nor I know the future. If we ever change your mind and decide that you want to repair a relationship (have a relationship with the person on the other side of the burnt bridge), you can’t keep destroying the bridges. It’s going to take a long, long time to build another bridge—and to heal that relationship (if ever).
The Right Thing: Resist the urge to say destructive words and do destructive things to the other person, no matter what has happened. Take the words from the Bambi movie seriously: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”
MESS #4: Telling only one side to a story to make ourselves look good.
Out of emotional responses, we often say overblown, truth-stretched claims. We justify our own poor behaviour by “telling a story” of “what really happened.” In reality, our perspective is only one part of a super-complicated mess.
When we’re hurt, our thinking is distorted and self-focused. We tend to lash out. We all make bad decisions. When we realise a decision may be bad, we may try to dismiss the realisation or cover it up. To justify our ideas or actions, we may use words against the other person, just to cover our behinds. After all, if the focus is on the other person, then the heat is off of us.
Telling one side of the story, to make one’s self not look as bad, is lying. Lies entangle, mess up relationships big time, and really mess with our thinking. Lies carry the high probability of ruining relationships. Lying to ourselves about telling lies (“in the long run, this little lie won’t hurt anyone or anything”) messes with us more than we can imagine.
The Right Thing: Hold your tongue. Stop talking only about the negative parts of a situation with the other person. Stop creating out-of-proportion mistruths. Be wise.
Wise people cool off. Wise people realise that there are two sides to a story. Wise people don’t need to gossip or spill details in order to feel good about themselves.
And wise people avoid lies, understanding the devastation that lies carry.
MESS #5: Saying things that, once said, can never be taken back.
Despite the saying, sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me —truth is, words hurt. Once spoken, words can’t be sucked back into our mouths. The damage is done, making it harder to forgive and move on.
The Right Thing: Again, hold your tongue. Don’t ever let yourself get to the point where you say, I don’t care. We have to care, because not only do hurtful words destroy others, hurtful words can come back to bite us pretty hard.
In order to not say words you regret, you might have to remove yourself from the situation. If you have the sneaking suspicion that what you’re going to say or do will hurt another, then leave the area. But leave in a way that completely respects the other person.
In other words, don’t storm out. Don’t show physical signs of aggression by throwing or kicking things. Don’t throw words back toward the other person.
In fact, there’s a way to learn how to not let the situation get to that point.
Find out where your fuse was lit—that one place where you first felt a spark of hurt—that first emotional feeling of a fire in your chest. Learn to identify that point and say, “I need to take a minute. I care for you and for our relationship, so I’m going to step out. But I’ll be back, because my desire is that we communicate well.”
Always let other person know that you’re not rejecting them. You want to solve the issue. You’re taking time for yourself, to protect the relationship.
In the final part – this Wednesday – we’ll talk about five more messes that we tend to get ourselves into—and how to use those messes to create a better story for your book character…and for your life.
(Want to catch up with the series? See Part One here.)
Erin Brown Conroy, MA, MFA, is an author, speaker, professor, and online course designer. She oversees two online writing programs and teaches writing, leadership, and interpersonal communication at the college level.
You can find her writing at coffee shops and putting her feet up at night to watch a good movie with her teens and three dogs.
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(Picture Sources: WordPress / Erin Brown Conroy)
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