The Story Rumble at Home (Gems from Rising Strong by Brene Brown)

WangThai (Sandton, Johannesburg, May 2016)

WangThai (Sandton, Johannesburg, May 2016)

I’ve been reading Brene’s Brown’s stunning new book “Rising Strong” over the last few weeks (blog post/audio story/video/interpretative dance/all of the above about my thoughts coming soon) but in the meantime, I wanted to share some of her thoughts about talking through our emotions at home, with those closest to us. Reading this book has been transformative for me because it’s helped me find language and ways to sort through my feelings when I’m upset and about to either shut down or have a fight with my husband, and I’m really looking forward to sharing some of our learnings soon. Before that though, I wanted to share some of her concluding thoughts about rumbling with emotions and stories at home. We’ve been reading this book this book from the library (we’ve already signed the book out twice) but we’ve taken a lot of notes along the way to help keep our learnings alive. Have you read this book? What are your key takeaways? We’d love to hear from you.

The Story Rumble at Home
Light (Sandton, Johannesburg, May 2016)

Light (Sandton, Johannesburg, May 2016)

“As you can probably imagine after reading this book, Steve and I rumble all the time. At least once a week, one of us will need to say, “The story I’m making up is..” It’s not hyperbole to state that it has revolutionized the way we deal with our conflicts. Even with as much as I understand about the power of emotion and as many years as we’ve been together, I’m still surprised by how many of our arguments are intensified by the fabrications we tell ourselves. What starts as a small disagreement about an unimportant issue becomes a fight over wrongly assigned intentions and hurt feelings.

The story rumble also permeates our family culture. We’re doing our best to model and teach our children the rising strong process and help them integrate it as a practice in their lives. All children wrestle with belonging and wanting to be part of something, so many of their SFDs are about these struggles. (For our kids, SFD stands for stormy first drafts, which also allows us to work a weather metaphor

When our kids feel lonely or scared, or when they convince themselves that they’re “the only ones” who aren’t out having a blast with a huge group of friends, or who can’t watch a certain movie or go to a concert, or who don’t have the latest technology, we try to get curious about the stories they’re making up. We strongly encourage journaling and even drawing. Practicing the story rumble during these times not only teaches them about the process, but also almost always leads to an experience of connection between us. It’s far more effective than relying on, “I don’t care if everyone in the world is allowed to go to this music festival-you’re not. Would you jump off a bridge is everyone else was doing it?” Or worst of all in terms of undermining the respect our children have for us,” Because I said so.”

When we ask our kids about their conspiracies and confabulations, it opens a discussion that otherwise we might not have. For example, Ellen might say,” I’m making up that I study hard and help around the house and try to be a responsible person, but you still don’t trust me enough to let me go to this festival, and I’ll probably never get to go.” Her SFD gives us the opportunity to empathize and tell her how much we trust and appreciate her, and to explain that we’re not making our decisions based on her behaviour, but on how the people around her will most likely be behaving. No matter how trustworthy our children are, when drugs, alcohol, and crowds are in play, it’s easy to get in over your head and find yourself in unnecessarily dangerous situations.

[..] It’s been important in helping Ellen understand that we believe children need a place or time to grow into, to show them that they have new experiences and privileges and opportunities to look forward to. We get to tell her how proud we are that she’s earned the fullest privileges that we believe are appropriate for someone her age.

Don’t think for one minute that this changes her level of disappointment-it doesn’t, and that’s not our goal. It does, however, ensure that even if she disagrees with our decision and is angry with us (which is totally healthy and okay) she’s not marinating in feelings of not being trusted or respected enough.

[..]Even with our ten year old, the stormy first draft works great. He’ll tell us that he’s having a rotten time in school because he’s the only one who doesn’t understand what’s happening with fractions. That is when we acknowledge his emotions and start the reckoning with empathy. Then we move to curiosity by asking questions. Sometimes I’ll check in with the teacher, who 99 percent of the time says, “This is a tough unit. He’s frustrated, but he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be. This is new for everyone.” With this information in hand, we can begin a productive rumble and help him find the delta between the story he made up about his level of ability and the normal frustrations of learning new material.

There’s another important parenting takeaway from this research. As we’ve discovered, we’re wired for story and in the absence of data we will rely on confabulations and conspiracies. When our children sense something is wrong – maybe a sick grandparent or a financial worry- or when they know something is wrong – an argument or a work crisis- they quickly jump to filling in the missing pieces of the story. And because our wellbeing is directly tied to their sense of safety, fear sets in and often dictates the story. It’s important that we give them as much information as is appropriate for their developmental and emotional capacity, and that we provide a safe place for them to ask questions. Emotions are contagious and when we’re stressed or anxious or afraid our children can be quickly engulfed in the same emotions. More information means less fear-based story-making. (Brene Brown, Rising Strong, p.370-375)

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