Runaway stories and effective interpersonal conflict resolution are like oil and water.
Runaway stories are the experience of telling yourself a tall tale about the person you’re in conflict with. You catastrophize the situation, or project your own stuff onto them, or amplify their less commendable traits in the story you tell yourself. And the more you tell yourself the story you’ve made up about them, the more you believe it. The more you believe it, the more like The Truth it becomes. The more it feels like The Truth, the harder it is to unlock the interpersonal conflict because it’s hard to change The Truth, right?
Trouble is, runaway stories are just fabrication. A runaway story may feel like The Truth, but it began with a story you made up because you let your thoughts and assumptions run ahead of you.
The legend of Rhonda Brickman
In The Legend of Rhonda Brickman, folk singer Christine Kane tells the story of two yoga instructors and their student:
Ben and Gina became friends with Rhonda, and they often spent time after classes talking about their lives.
In these conversations, Rhonda talked about her husband often. And Ben and Gina began to weave all kinds of stories about this man. They made him into sort of a corporate giant, giving him all kinds of powerhouse personality traits. They were even a little intimidated by all of their pre-conceptions about him.
Finally, they all went out to dinner together. And as it turns out, Rhonda Brickman’s husband couldn’t have been more unlike their fabricated image of him. All evening long, Ben and Gina glanced at each other in sheer amazement at how completely wrong they had been.
Ben and Gina now use that experience to call each other on runaway stories. They’ll simply say to the other in a sing-song voice, “Rhonda Brickmaaaan.”
Christine, in relating the tale, talks about how she’s been using the legend of Rhonda Brickman in the recording studio.
Three questions to neutralize your runaway thoughts
I love the idea of learning how to “Rhonda Brickmaaaan” ourselves. Once we’ve called ourselves out on our own runaway stories, we can get grounded again with these questions:
- How is being attached to my runaway story influencing my reaction?
- How would I be different in this situation if I were not attached to my runaway story?
Do you have a Rhonda Brickman-like story?