When Bad Things Happen, Stop Talking in Stories and Start Talking in Facts

One of the most addictive things in human nature are stories. We love to hear them, we love to share them, we read them in books and we watch them in films.

When I was on a personal development course a few years ago, some of the participants were sharing stories of the past that they were still hung up on. Some of them were truly terrible – abusive parents, relationships from hell, or being cheated in business partnerships.

But the idea that the course leader introduced us to was this: Stop talking in stories and start talking in facts.

Whenever someone described themselves as “abused”, or “screwed over”, or being “destroyed”, or “cheated”, the course leader would interrupt the participant. “What happened, what did you say, what did he say? That’s all I want to know. I don’t want to know your story, I want to know what happened.”

So the participant would have to reword how the incident occurred in pure facts, instead of the story that they had developed over the preceding years. And they would really struggle, because the story had been ingrained for so long. When we feel wronged, we are likely to make it sound worse when we describe it to others. Instead of saying “my ex-fiancé slept with a hooker once”, we’ll say “my ex-fiancé cheated on me, betrayed me, and destroyed our relationship.” We choose strong, emotive words that make us feel victimized, wronged, and angry.

It’s not to condone the actions of others in the past, but as the Dalai Lama says: “Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and be free from the past – until then, someone else will hold the keys to our happiness, and that person will be our jailor.” Until we forgive, we will still be trapped by our past.

When we start talking about our past in facts, we’ll start to loosen our attachment to our narratives that we’ve created, and be able to focus more on our present and future. Our stories will no longer be told in dramatic, entertaining fashion – but we’ll be free.