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Holiday Stories: Truth Vs. Fiction

By: Cara Barth

“That’s what the holidays are for, for one person to tell the stories and another to dispute them.” ~ Lara Flynn Boyle

The holiday season is fast approaching, and with the coming Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then the New Year’s festivities, many stories will be written! The stories I speak of may not be pen to paper versions of  “The Pilgrims’ First Thanksgiving” by M. Hubbard or “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus,” but these stories are the ones we create in our minds and hearts. I think the following quote by Denis Nord  says it well:

“It’s like your children talking about holidays, you find they have a quite different memory of it from you. Perhaps everything is not how it is, but how it’s remembered.”

We take the situations of an event and form a perception of what we “see” going on. We use our own filters and memory systems to create the stories we want to recount moving forward.

One very poignant example of this very “perceptual phenomena” is described in The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall .

A team of psychologists asked shoppers to choose a pair of socks from among a set of seven pairs. The participants were then asked to give their reasons for choosing that particular pair. Every shopper explained their choice was based on subtle differences in color, texture, and stitching. No shopper said, “I don’t know why this is my choice,” or “I have no idea why I picked that one.” All of them had a story that explained their decision. But here’s the kicker: All of the socks were identical. Gottschall explains that, “All of the shoppers told stories that made their decisions seem rational, but they really weren’t.” He writes, “The stories were ‘confabulations’- lies + honestly being told = their truth.”

We all have visions of what this holiday season will look like. Our stories we hear in our minds eye include, Aunt Millie asking us, “Why can’t you keep a man?”  We envision our sister-in-law comparing our children to hers and ours inevitably coming up “less par”. You can already feel how insufferable your work holiday party is going to be. You assume the items you were planning to wear don’t fit anymore, why even try them on or better yet, why go? These holiday stories might feel like “truth” BUT what if they are actually “fiction?” One of the biggest, most dangerous pieces of fiction ever written is when these holiday stories create a sense of diminished self-worth.

When something in our lives feels painful to us, instead of “feeling” the hurt, we tend to jump to meaning-making. Instead of “feeling” the pain of loss, disappointment, lack of respect etc., we tend to write these events with one of our ingrained beliefs. We say things such as, “See, there it is again, no one in this family respects me!” Our brains find comfort in patterns and our core beliefs are familiar patterns. However, if we are willing to “feel” our feelings, then we have the opportunity to be present with ourselves. We create a powerful pause that helps us to not automatically choose fear-based, self-protecting stories that end up keeping us scared, shut down, and resentful. We can give ourselves the opportunity to choose to look at the story we are creating. With this practice of drafting a pause, we can make ourselves the heroin of our stories, not the victims. We become less self-protective and more generous in looking at our assumptions.

So, remember when the holidays used to be fun? Sure, you were a kid then, and someone else did what you only now perceive to be a lot of work and a bloated version of your normal to-do list, BUT you do have the choice to re-write this projected view. You can begin to think of this as a time when you tune in to what is actually kind of magical about your life. I’m not saying there aren’t awful things happening around the world or all the holiday get togethers are not going to have their “moments,” BUT just that it’s possible to reframe that  “Eat till you drop”-“Santa-Baby”-Toys-‘R’-Us-mall-parking lot” mindset by thinking about what actually matters!  What matters is YOU, the NEW memories that will become even newer, non-fiction versions of “US”, whatever that looks like!

“Sometimes we believe it is truth, not because it is truth but because it has been made truth by law or tradition. Some of those truths are nothing but dogmatized myths” 

~ Bangambiki Habyarimana,

The Great Pearls of Wisdom

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