Assumptions and the power of story

The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We could swear they are real.     

Miguel Ruiz

It can be hard to feel loved on a daily basis. Tonight I just wanted to go to bed after wrapping a birthday present and doing laundry upstairs. Except. Oops. I remembered that I hadn’t written anything today. I came downstairs to find that my family left many of the things that I do at night undone when they came upstairs to bed.

I felt angry.

I always ask my clients, what’s underneath the anger. The truth is that anger is a secondary emotion – one we go to when the underneath emotion is so uncomfortable, painful, and small that we want to avoid feeling it by accessing our aggression and our strength. Angry is WAY better than hurt. Hurt sucks. Anger is powerful. Hurt is small and weak. At least that’s what people often think.

SO. Underneath the anger. I felt unappreciated, devalued and hurt.

I felt like perhaps my family is not grateful to me. Like the things I do don’t actually matter to them. Maybe they don’t? It’s entirely possible that I’m the only one in the family who cares whether that one last piece of meatloaf gets bagged up and into the refrigerator to be reused in a sandwich tomorrow. Perhaps I’m the only one aggravated to come downstairs in the morning to dirty dishes on the counter and the table.

My anger says: they’re treating me like I’m their maid. They think I’m just here to clean up after them.

My hurt says: they don’t love me enough to see the things I do for them and to want to help. They aren’t grateful for me.

When I stop and write it down, I can see the power of the story I’m telling myself. The story is that I’m alone in caring for everyone and everyone is taking advantage of me. That I’m a martyr to my family’s lovely life.

Stories are how we make sense of our emotions. We want to believe that our emotional responses flow logically from the facts of any given situation. But in order to do that, we have to embellish the facts. We have to add assumptions to them. We have to fill in the gaps between what we can observe with what we guess or assume to be true.

But you know what they say about assume….(hint: it makes an ass out of u and me).

Reading back the thoughts I had upon coming downstairs I can see the gaps that were filled in with assumptions. The worst assumptions (because, honestly, I don’t usually assume the best). I assume they saw the dishes. I assume they chose not to do them. I assume they thought about how the dishes weren’t done and chose to leave them for me. I assume that they put the same importance on the dishes that I do. I assume they wouldn’t have done them in the morning. I assume that my family not doing the dishes means they don’t care or notice that I do the dishes.

Those assumptions may be true or they may not be true. But it’s certainly less painful when I realize that I’m making them and realize that the evidence is that the conclusion I reached by making them is false. My family loves me and is grateful for me.

They thank me all the time. They write it in the cards they give me for my birthday, holidays, and days in between. They show it by bringing me flowers on the weekend when they go out to get breakfast because they know I like them. They tell me.

This is the second important feature of mindfulness in DBT. Being aware of the stories you tell yourself that are inspiring the emotions you’re feeling. When you know the story, you can start to be curious about it’s veracity.

To be a detective about your own life.

What is the evidence that what I’m assuming is true? you might ask yourself. Is there evidence that the story I’m telling myself is NOT true?

Of course there is. There always is. IF you’re willing to look for it.

Story also helps us to know what we need. If I believe my family is not grateful for what I do, I can ask them to tell me that they are. If I were to hear “we love you and are grateful for everything that you do.” I would feel better. Just typing the dialogue make me feel better.

Not all the way better. But now I’m more annoyed than angry.

Annoyed sucks way less than angry.

Published by alexm1008

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in Houston, Texas. I specialize in helping clients develop skills and strategies to feel more in control of their emotions and behaviors. I am also a wife and mother of two who loves to run and travel (particularly to Disney World with my kids and without).

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