The Stories We Tell
We humans are funny animals. I once heard Elizabeth Gilbert say in an interview that the best place to hide God was in us humans, because we are the last place you’d think to look for it/her/him/they/divinity.
It makes me laugh but I think it’s also profoundly true. We are an unlikely mix of contradictions, tremendously sacred and sincerely ridiculous all at once.
One of the things that separates us human animals from our roommates (i.e. the other members of the animal kingdom) is our ability to make meaning and create stories, not to mention our tendency to forget that we are animals to begin with.
Beginning in infancy and then perfected in childhood, we become masters of perceiving our circumstances and then making sense of them using our large brains and vastly creative minds. This is how we make sense of the world around us, and understand our place in it all. It’s a very helpful hack, given that this ride we’re on can be somewhat bewildering and confusing.
Now, as children, we are primarily self- or ego-centered. This isn’t a character flaw; it’s an important and natural part of our childhood development. We think the world revolves around us, because that’s largely how it feels and appears to us. We are, after all, very small and only freshly from the oven; we can’t see over the counters, let alone comprehend more complicated issues we’ve never even imagined. Our world is small because we are small.
It takes time for us to grow and develop and mature, physically as well as mentally and emotionally. We learn gradually that we are not the centre of the universe, even if we still sometimes wish we were, and that there are other issues that require attention than simply our own wants and needs.
Even though we (hopefully) mostly grow out of egocentrism as we grow up, sometimes we can get stuck in believing that our circumstances or other people’s actions are personal, especially when we feel like they impact us personally.
It can be really hard to choose not to believe that someone didn’t mean to hurt you when you feel really hurt. I know for a fact that sometimes, the hurt and resentment I feel towards an unwanted circumstance can leave me searching for someone to blame for the experience I’m having. And there’s never a shortage of people I can blame when I feel like a victim.
When I’m hurting, I feel a need to understand why this thing happened or is happening to me. I need to know why it happened, as if understanding why will alleviate my pain and suffering, or right the wrong.
For the record, it generally doesn’t.
Once I find the guilty party or can clearly point to the injustice, I tend to suffer more. I’m still upset, but now I have a reason! So on top of the initial discomfort, I feel righteous, judgmental, sad and angry. I become a victim twice over: once to the original circumstance and then again to the meaning I’ve created about why the circumstance happened in the first place.
Here’s what I’ve learned: just because something impacted you doesn’t mean it was about you.
A thing could happen in your life that is undeniably awful. It may well have been sheer bad luck or it may have been perpetrated by someone, at you. It may feel personal or intentionally designed to harm you. For that matter, it may even actually have been intentionally targeted at or harmful to you. The other party may have acted thoughtlessly, or they well have acted on purpose.
Either way, the impact was felt by you, and that is hard. But it doesn’t mean it was about you. Someone else’s choices and behaviour is about them, not about you.
Of course, it’s unpleasant when someone else’s behaviour causes you harm. To put it eloquently, it just sucks. But we don’t need to make matters worse by making it about us in order to understand why it sucks so much. Sometimes, life is hard and painful.
I’ll say it again: just because something impacts you doesn’t mean it’s about you.
Even if it was someone you love and trust, like your parent or partner. Even if it did real and significant harm. Especially if the impact did real and significant harm. Their actions impacted you, yes. They may have caused harm, pain and suffering. Their choices may have begun a whole chain of events you’d rather not have experienced, thank you very much.
But someone else’s actions are about the person taking the actions, not about the person they impact. You are the collateral damage, unfortunately. Collateral damage is always unfortunate and feels unfair. Being collateral damage impacts you, yes, but it’s not about you.
The impact and damage caused by others has required significant healing on my part. There has been work for me to do on my end, as a result of someone else’s impact. I can tell you, coming from a deeply dysfunctional home, there has been and continues to be real work for me to do to heal my wounds. But I am clear that while the wounds were not my fault, nor were they about me in the making (hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes), the healing is my business and no one else’s.
It feels unfair, because it is. But life is under no obligation to be fair and the sooner we understand that, the freer we will be and the easier it will become to heal from hurtful impacts, intended or otherwise.
While I could wish away my pain and suffering as a result of other’s actions and inactions, I can honestly say that without that part of my story, my journey wouldn’t have led me to where — and more importantly — to WHO I am today. So I choose to accept with those impacts (it’s not much of a choice, really, because the harm was done whether I choose to accept it or not), because I also choose my sovereignty to grow and heal into who I get to be.
This version of me? She’s worth it.
Just because someone makes something about you doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. That’s collusion. You don’t have to accept every invitation you’re offered, especially if it’s an invitation to additional drama or suffering. Life is hard enough without us finding more ways to be victimized by the stories we make up to rationalize why bad things happen.
I personally find forgiveness a whole lot easier when I understand that someone else’s actions are about them, even if I’m feeling the impact. My forgiveness is for me. It’s my freedom. It’s within my power to choose, even if their actions aren’t.
Between my freedom and being chained by the meaning I’m making up about other people’s actions, I’ll choose my freedom every time. It feels better and allows for healing, and it clears the way for me to own my healing and choose myself. This hasn’t always been my solution, but these days, I value my free heart and my peace and trust in myself more than my righteousness. It feels better.
What would look different for you if you could separate the impacts you feel from the stories that make it be about you?