Be Careful Before Saying “That’s Just Your Story!”

It is very common in NVC circles and other progressive schools of thought, for well-intentioned people like myself to utter this phrase. I hear it mostly when someone hears a dramatic story they believe is not entirely accurate, or they are tired of hearing the story repeatedly. “That’s just your story!” They say this hoping to wake someone up from a miserable “bad dream” of false beliefs or misperceived assumptions. They want to help the person; they wish s/he would snap out of it.

I agree that the false beliefs or assumptions may very well trigger and perpetuate a lot of pain in the person. I’ve had more than a few of them myself. It’s believed that the fictional story is compelling them to retell the “drama” dozens of times, each time seeking pure, deep empathy more desperately than the last. And yet each time somewhat less likely to get the empathy they want. Because folks get tired of hearing stories of drama.

When I hear people say “That’s your story!”…I sometimes cringe just a tiny bit. For one thing, some part or parts of the story may be quite accurate and true. Thus I feel concerned that the person caught up in the false drama may hear the word “story” as a judgment.

After all, if they’ve been telling this story for some time, they’re probably quite attached to it. They’ve begun to identify as the good guy, the protagonist in the story. They are the one who suffered unfair treatment. Or they detected some serious wrongs that nobody else seemed to see or care about. I’ve found myself playing the role of the false storyteller myself from time to time. I know how attached I’ve become to certain untrue stories, and how jarring it can be to hear someone dismiss it out of hand.

It may be a bit easier to let go of my story if someone shares truthfully and vulnerably in pure NVC form.  I.e., after hearing the story a number of times, they are beginning to feel tired of it and curious as to just how accurate and true the story is. I’d love it if they’d ask to see if I’m willing to reexamine the situation and see if perhaps an erroneous assumption may have crept in under my radar.

I’m longing for some consideration and TLC for the feelings of the “storyteller.” We all get attached to false stories or inaccurate assumptions at times. Unless, of course, we’ve mastered the art of pure observation without an iota of subjective judgment. It can be painful to hear someone insist, “That’s just your story!” It compares to being awakened from sleep with a splash of cold water. Maybe it’s possible to wake someone gently, starting with a caress. If they’re still sleeping, a gentle pat or massage might also be effective.

My request would be that we consider other options instead of the word “story.” Story has some very positive meanings, too, as in literature, film, stage plays. Even paintings and murals may involve a meaningful, valuable story. History, when recorded accurately, includes many stories that are true and may be important for humanity to consider. Speaking of history, how many historians have proclaimed with deep conviction to a particular ethnic or geographic or religious group: “We ARE our story!”  Simon Schama does precisely this in episode one of his 5-part saga, “The Story of the Jews.”

I’m tempted to use the word “fiction” instead. Yet even that word has some positive meanings to writers and many people in the arts. Some have suggested using the word “hallucination” which seems a bit strong or harsh to me, unless someone was under the influence.

I like the word “falsehood” myself, as in “false assumption,” or “inaccurate assumption,” because those words seem to nail down the reality, meeting needs for clear understanding. Even so, I wouldn’t say to someone, “That’s just your falsehood that you’re telling yourself.” I’d rather couch it more gently and ask if the person is 100% sure that every assumed belief about the person or situation is accurate and verified as true. I’d ask if they had a chance to ask questions to verify some of the assumed facts.

Usually they will admit they didn’t have the chance, or never even thought to inquire. Then I might ask if they’d be willing to consider the possibility that some of the assumptions might be less than fully accurate.

If the person is familiar with brain anatomy, I’d ask if maybe the pain of their unmet needs stimulated one or both sides of their amygdalae. (There is an almond-shaped amygdala in both the left and right hemispheres of the human brain). If they say yes, I’d point out that their cerebral cortex would have gone offline at that point. Their ability to observe with full objective clarity may have been compromised. Somehow their original observation was made through a very cloudy, painful lens created by inner jackals. (Jackals are, to me, the NVC equivalent of the egoic mind.)

That so-called observation would not have measured up to the CIA’s standards of quality intelligence. There may have been false assumptions which stimulated tremendous emotional pain when taken as the truth. If one bit of inaccurate CIA intelligence can trigger full-blown wars between nations, just imagine what it can do to your interpersonal relationships!

So that is the “story.” There’s that word, again, of which I’m not very fond. I used it here just as a reminder that we can’t fully abolish words from the dictionary or from NVC parlance. We can just look for and consider alternatives. We can seek words that are more likely to help us connect more gently with someone under the excruciating delusion of nightmarish falsehoods.

About swpollack

I’m an independent mediator and collaborative communication coach who can help you to co-create greater ease, connection and mutual understanding in your personal and professional relationships. As a non-traditional specialist, my aim is to get concrete results for my clients in a fraction of the time usually required by traditional therapy and counseling. Please visit my business website: . The emotion-based coaching work I do is deeply therapeutic, yet I am neither a psychologist nor a psychotherapist. Instead I work with a holistic, empathic process called compassionate, nonviolent communication. I also facilitate ongoing support groups for people who want to learn this organic process of nonjudgmental communication to help build bridges of connection, harmony, collaboration and understanding. For more about my Build Compassionate Relationships meetup group, visit: . I’ve been offering these services to the public since 2000 in the greater Miami and Fort Lauderdale area, as well as by phone and through Skype conferencing. . Nonviolent Communication is a process developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It’s based on a very pure, nonjudgmental language of feelings, needs and requests. I’ve found this to be a powerful tool in my mediation work which involves bringing two or more people together despite a painful history of conflict.
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