Like a movie trailer, your Stuck Story is a montage of the most interesting moments in a conflict, with certain scenes magnified and others omitted. It’s not the story of the conflict; it’s your story of the conflict. It’s not helpful to keep repeating your Stuck Story, either to yourself or to others. Here’s why and how to stop the unintended rehearsals.
A client told me the story of a long-term conflict with her brother. She first told me the story before we began working together. Then, she told me again during our first session. The story, sometimes with the same phrasing repeated, came up again and again in our early work.
Of course, each time she told what happened, she polished the story more, just by the act of re-telling. She wasn’t trying to polish it, of course. She was trying to understand it, to figure it out, to get it to give up its secrets so she could know what to do. It is something we all do.
Nevertheless, the repetition of her story was creating a neural pathway in her brain, making the story feel increasingly like The Truth About What Happened. The more we practice our story of the conflict, the more certain we feel about it, thanks to the neural pathway we’ve created.
As we tell the story to ourselves and others, it becomes what I call a Stuck Story. We forget that it’s just something we constructed as we tried to understand it all. It’s not the whole movie, just the movie trailer, scenes chosen because they were particularly dramatic or because they held some kind of meaning for us.
We rather fall too much in love with our Stuck Story. We grow too committed to it, become too certain of the truth in it. The replays are oddly soothing, as we gradually become the heroes or our own constructs, justified in our behavior by their behavior, clearer with each retelling and tweaking that the universe is on our side.
Our Stuck Story isn’t worthless because it does hold important messages for us. The message often does not reveal itself by the constant retelling.
I invited my client to stop rehearsing her Stuck Story about the selfish brother and the heavy burden she faced with her elderly father’s care. I invited her to stop telling versions of the story to herself as she weeded the garden. I invited her to stop complaining about him to her friends. She could then spend her energy differently, focusing on the Story’s message instead of on the Story itself.
If you’ve read my book, The Conflict Pivot, you’ll recall that together, my client and I came up with a plan that each time she observed herself beginning to ruminate on her story when she was alone, she would sing a song instead. I know that sounds absurd. But she enjoyed singing and had done musical theatre in her community. The idea was to interrupt the Stuck Story loop by redirection. The point was to keep the story from further embedding itself in her psyche.
When we spoke next, my client was both aghast and full of good humor. “I’ve never sung so many show tunes in my garden!” she laughed. But beneath the laughter, she was startled to notice how much of her mental energy had been going to her Stuck Story. This is not what she wanted for her life.
Are you rehearsing your own Stuck Story, allowing it to take up residence in your mind, allowing it to carve out a little nook in which it can live with you every day, draining and distracting you? How will you interrupt it?