The power of reframing frustrating experiences as stories

This sure will make one heck of a story.jpg

There's an episode of the show Girls where Hannah does some unsavory things for the sake of being able to tell a story about it later. As author Emma Straub wrote in a recap of the episode for Vulture, "Hannah is simultaneously trying to document and construct her life." While I don't necessarily recommend following in Hannah's footsteps (unless having sex with your boss for the sake of the "story" appeals to you), it's interesting for all of us — not just writers like Hannah — to reframe frustrating or disappointing life experiences as valuable stories in the overarching narrative of our lives.

For example, this week I went to see a new OB-GYN. She greeted me with dirty tissues in her hand, sneezing up a storm, and proceeded to offer some pretty unprofessional commentary. I could have been outraged, but I chose to be amused, and spent the rest of the afternoon texting my friends about it.

The next time a colleague or family member says something that pushes your buttons, try saying to yourself, "What a great story this will make for later." It's amazing how this simple act of reframing can defuse a situation.

After all, what is storytelling but an attempt to control life's narrative for a little while?

Of course, there's a fine line between reframing and denial. I'm not suggesting that we pretend not to be hurt by things. And certainly, some things are so traumatic that clever mind tricks are wildly insufficient. 

And yet, sometimes, mind tricks are just what the doctor ordered: Narrative therapy is a real thing. Therapists using this approach coach patients to reframe life experiences in a more positive light, and/or to counterbalance retelling of negative experiences with retelling of positive ones. (Since most of us tend to treat the negative in life as more important or valid than the positive.)

It's all in the framing. (Photo by  Kathryn  on Flickr)

It's all in the framing. (Photo by Kathryn on Flickr)

Reframing and treating life as a series of stories also goes hand in hand with practicing mindfulness, which teaches us to become observers of our lives, rather than merely participants. This distance, and the perspective it allows, can be healing. 

Author and teacher Lidia Yuknavich once wrote that women live their lives waiting for their lives to become movies. This resonates with me, and I know a number of other women who've confessed to imagining moments of their lives as if they were underscored by a certain soundtrack. (My own daughter, only six years old, stood gazing out the window a few weeks back. When her father asked her what she was doing, she said, "I'm looking sad, the way characters do in movies.")

The thing is, we don't need to wait for someone to turn on a camera for our stories to begin; what's more, our stories don't have to be in movies to be important. We are already in a narrative of our own making. Each episode of this narrative is borne of the actions we take, and of the stories we tell ourselves about the things we encounter. 

In other words, your story is what you make it. 

So the next time someone pushes your buttons, try telling yourself, "This sure will make one heck of a story." 

Let me know how it goes.