June 3, 2020

Change Your Story Change Your Life

As a therapist, Lori Gottlieb's inbox is full of letters from complete strangers all over the world sharing their deepest secrets, fears and worries.

Aptly, she organizes all these letters in a folder in her laptop named 'The Problems of Living'.

And in her Ted Talk, 'How Changing Your Story Can Change Your Life', Lori reads out one of the letters.

"Dear Therapist,

I've been married for 10 years and things were good until a couple of years ago. That's when my husband stopped wanting to have sex as much, and now we barely have sex at all.

Well, last night I discovered that for the past few months, he's been secretly having long, late-night phone calls with a woman at his office.

I googled her, and she's gorgeous. I can't believe this is happening.

My father had an affair with a coworker when I was young and it broke our family apart.

Needless to say, I'm devastated.

If I stay in this marriage, I'll never be able to trust my husband again. But I don't want to put our kids through a divorce, stepmom situation, etc.

What should I do?"

Just by reading the letter, it's easy to empathize with the woman for the situation she is in and the anxiety she is experiencing and dislike her husband for cheating on her.

But Gottlieb points out that if there's anything that she has learned as a therapist in dealing with thousands of clients, it's this - as humans, "we are all unreliable narrators of our own lives." 

Our stories are often incomplete, inaccurate and even just plain wrong and while we may not be doing this deliberately, our stories are often narrated from our points of view - thereby leaving out the crucial details and being unaware of alternate versions of the same story.

And to make her point, she reads out another letter.

"Dear Therapist,

I need help with my wife.

Lately, everything I do irritates her, even small things, like the noise I make when I chew. At breakfast, I noticed that she even tries to secretly put extra milk in my granola so it won't be as crunchy.

I feel like she became critical of me after my father died two years ago. I was very close with him, and her father left when she was young, so she couldn't relate to what I was going through.

There's a friend at work whose father died a few months ago, and who understands my grief.

I wish I could talk to my wife like I talk to my friend, but I feel like she barely tolerates me now.

How can I get my wife back?"

As you can see, a different story can totally change the narrative.

Now Gottlieb does confess that she wrote the version of the husband's letter, but she reveals that there have been numerous instances where she has heard and read two versions of the same story from her therapy clients and column readers.

The biggest takeaway is in order for us to become unstuck and change our lives, we need to step out of our stories and start narrating them from a third-person point of view to get a wider perspective.

Nothing drives home this point more beautifully than the cartoon Gottlieb shares in her Ted Talk which shows a prisoner in bars who is desperately struggling to break free without realizing the sides are completely open.

Gottlieb reveals that when we are depressed, lonely or rejected, we distort our stories through a very narrow lens which keep us trapped and helpless.

As she wisely points out, it's not our circumstances that shape our stories, rather it's the way we narrate our stories that shape our lives and by changing our stories we can change our lives.

Enjoy her fantastic Ted Talk and check out her book 'Maybe You Should Talk to Someone'.

About the author 


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