Stories can reveal truth, but they can also lie. So it’s no wonder that the simple phrase, “He’s telling a story,” can refer to a truth or a lie. At face value, this is simply a statement of fact, but with a bit of context and the right tone of voice, it means quite the opposite.
Consider this scenario:
Jack tipped his head down as if he were studying his big toes that peeked through shredded holes in the ends of his sneakers, but he was really watching his mother and sister out of the corner of his eye. Cassie jumped up and down like a ping-pong ball with her hand over her mouth, and he wished he had a paddle to send her flying out of the room. But thoughts like that are what had brought him to this uncomfortable situation in the first place.
His mom hit the send button on her phone and looked up. “Okay, Cassie, what is it?”
Cassie exploded like a shaken bottle of Coke. “He’s telling a story!”
Jack braced for his mom’s response.
It’s obvious Cassie thinks Jack’s story is a lie even though the sentence is exactly the same as the statement of fact.
Last April, I wrote the blog post, The Stories We Tell Ourselves | On Telling Ourselves the Truth, about how the stories we tell ourselves can help us be more truthful. Sometimes, however, we’re incapable of seeing the truth, and we need more context to know when we’re lying. So how do we get this context? One way is to have someone else remind us of our stories.
But what if I have no positive stories in my life?
In the article, Common, Baffling Mental Habit Linked to Depression, on Psych Central, a study looked at the role suppressing positive emotions had on depression. Apparently, those who suffer from depression have positive emotions on a daily basis, but they actively suppress them. Most would assume that a depressed person simply thinks negative thoughts, but the study came to the following conclusion:
In a surprising contrast, researchers found that a tendency to dwell on negative feelings did not contribute to the development of the depression. In other words, suppressing positive feelings may be the critical, causal element. So, we could define depression (in part) as a lack of positivity, with dwelling on negativity as a merely more noticeable outcome. If you suppress the positive, then you are left with the negative.
I’m only an arm-chair psychologist, but this idea has the ring of truth to it. When a person is depressed they get stuck listening to the same negative stories over and over again not because they have nothing positive in their life but because they don’t believe the positive stories.
And that is when we need others who speak truth into our lives. Yes, sometimes truth is uncomfortable and negative, especially when someone pulls out the, “I’m just speaking the truth in love,” disclaimer. But what if we spoke the truth in love by telling stories about the positives in a person’s life? What if we did this intentionally and on a regular basis? I have to wonder if we’d see a drop in the number of people suffering from depression.
As a part of my move from being a writing hobbyist to a writing professional, I’ve started an experiment that I’m tentatively calling Story Circles. I’ve asked a few friends to join me in a private forum online in order to explore the role of story in our lives. I’ve only posed two questions so far, but the outpouring of positive feedback I’ve received is humbling and overwhelming. I realize that I have the tendency to not believe the positive, but having friends reminding me of our positive stories has forced me to acknowledge the amazing amount of positives I have in my life.
You may think that your life has not been as charmed or blessed as mine, but I encourage you not to make this an exercise in comparison, which almost always turns story into a lie. Even in the darkest experiences, we can find pinpricks of light and hope. If you’re having trouble seeing them today, find a friend or someone you respect and ask them to lend you their glasses. What you see may surprise you—in a positive way.