A client told me the story of a conflict with her brother. She told me the story first before we began working together. Then she told me again during our first session. The story — sometimes with new details, sometimes with the same phrasing repeated — came up repeatedly.
Of course, each time she told what happened, she polished the story more, just by the act of re-telling. She wasn’t trying to polish it, of course. She was trying to understand it, to figure it out, to get it to give up its secret so she could know what to do. It is something we do.
Nevertheless, the act was turning into rehearsal and it was making her story feel more and more like The Truth. I invited her to stop rehearsing the story about her inconsiderate brother and about the heavy burden she faced. I invited her to stop telling versions of the story to herself as she tended the garden. I invited her to stop complaining about it to her friends.
Together, we came up with a plan that each time she observed herself beginning to ruminate on her story when she was alone, she would sing a song instead. I know that sounds loony. But she enjoyed singing and had done musical theatre in her community. The idea was to keep her mind from its habit and distract it by doing something else instead, for now. The goal was to try to keep the story from further embedding itself in her mind.
When we spoke next, she was both aghast and full of good humor. “I’ve never sung so many show tunes!” she laughed. But beneath the laughter, she was startled to notice how much of her mental energy had been going to her conflict story.
Are you rehearsing your own conflict story, allowing it to take up residence in your mind, allowing it to carve out a little nook in which it can live with you every day, draining and distracting you?