This post is about my friend, Lily. I shared the saga of her towels here. Yesterday, she related an argument she had with her middle daughter the other day. Lily, by the way, has three girls, ages 15, 19 and 21, which — lucky for us! — provides plenty of savory material for learning about relationships.
So, the big news is that her middle daughter, Emma, has a new best friend. And Lily, curious about this new friend, asked her a couple of questions that did not include, “What does her father do?” (Lily knows that’s a question that would drive anyone crazy.) Lily asked her what kind of sports she likes and then accidentally mispronounced the girl’s last name. (Something like Blagovestchensky.)
All of a sudden, Emma got upset: How come you never listen, never remember and never understand? And then Lily got upset: How come you always snap, always get upset about simple mistakes, and always blow things out of proportion?
In a matter of seconds, they had each fallen into their old behaviors and old patterns of thinking. The scene was slightly different but they were acting the same roles yet again. They had gotten caught up in the back story.
What is the back story? It’s the story that runs in the back of our minds. It’s the story we tell ourselves, our own personal narrative that we’ve built up over time that we use to prove, support and continue our view of ourselves and our world.
Lily admitted that she immediately started thinking, “Oh no, here we go again, this is happening again, I don’t have a good relationship with my kids, I’ll never have a good relationship with them, I’m a terrible mother…”
But this time, Lily said that she tried something different. She didn’t want to react the same way she had reacted to her boyfriend not buying her the towels. (Her back story then was, “Oh no, I have to do everything myself, nobody loves me, I take care of everyone but nobody takes care of me, poor me…”)
She’d been reading a few books on Zen and the art of relationships and realized that she didn’t have to fall back into the same thoughts. She didn’t want to hear an instant replay. She didn’t want to listen to that back story like mindless Muzak playing in her head.
Instead, she was able to guide her brain away from that “Oh, no” place of anxiety. She stopped herself and instead, guided her brain toward this kind of thinking: “I can detach from those remarks…I can choose not to react…Everything is fine…This too shall pass…”
And it did.
Lily learned from the mistake she made with the towels. She trained herself to view things differently. It’s like that miracufantabulous saying: Nothing changed. I changed. Everything changed.
I found a great interview with Robert Duvall and Lucas Black– talking about their movie “Seven Days in Utopia.” (Any excuse to post that photo!) They reminded me that actors are always the same but they learn to play new characters and new roles in new movies. We have to remember that each scene of our life can be a new scene, with none of that back story preventing us from living our lives in a fresh, new way.
Don’t be shy – puh-leeze share what back story you’ve repeated in your head during an argument. What new thoughts have you found to replace the old, worn tapes in your head?
Coming up on Wednesday, April 18: My exclusive interview with Laura Vanderkam about her new book All The Money In The World and how it can help you use your money to live your best chapter.