We all have mental tapes that play over and over in our minds. If they are positive narratives, there’s no major downside other than they’re unnecessarily using up our brain-energy If our mental tapes have a negative or painful storyline they will eventually adversely affect our mind, emotions, and behavior.
What is the downside of verbalizing those redundant sob stories? It’s one thing to clutter our own minds with these anecdotes. It’s another thing to clutter our conversations with them.
"Be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive if you have a difference with anyone. Forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven you. And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues." Colossians 3:12
Analyze your conversations and notice if you tend to tell the same thing over and again. If so, perhaps you should tidy up your speech; delete the old stories and identify some new ones. Here are some areas to explore.
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Pain from the past
I have an acquaintance who continually tells the same story of her struggle to escape from an ultra-fundamentalist family of origin. The first time I heard the story, it was interesting (though it took too long to tell). The second time, not so much. I started overhearing her tell the story in other conversations. Even when she met someone for the first time she would find a way to work the story into the conversation. It seems to have defined her life, and with each telling, the story becomes more deeply engrained in her persona. For those who have heard the story before, the retelling is tedious.
One of the delights and benefits of close relationships is being able to share our joys and struggles with each other. I like the phrase “A sorrow shared with a friend is halved; a joy shared is doubled.” But sometimes we belabor our sharing.
For instance, it’s not necessary to share the minute details of your medical issues; I certainly want to know what’s going on, but I don’t need to know the dosage of each medication. I truly enjoy hearing about your grandchildren (as I enjoy telling you about mine), but not too much. The trip you took years ago sounds fabulous; can we talk about something else?
Truncate your stories
Reader’s Digest is an American general-interest family magazine, founded in 1922 and published ten times a year. Until 2009 it was the best-selling consumer magazine in America. It’s known for its concise writing style; all articles are short and to the point. We’ve even developed the phrase “give me the Readers’s Digest version” to indicate when we prefer a brief synopsis.
In summary, let’s rethink which personal stories should be in our oft-recited repertoire, and when we do share them, let’s make the “Reader’s Digest version” our default setting.
Focus on Others
When you’re the perpetuator of lopsided conversations, think about what’s driving the inequality and address the fundamental problem; it’s probably one of the “self” words: self-centeredness, self-reverence, selfishness. The solution to this social and relational faux pas is found is Philippians 2: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” We should focus on others instead of ourselves.
We may be so self-absorbed that we truly aren’t interested in others, and that’s why we talk about ourselves exclusively. In which case we must discipline ourselves to behave right (ask about others) so that eventually our behavior will help us think right, that is, we’ll truly want to be interested in other people’s lives and want to prefer them. Every person has a story worth telling that we can benefit from hearing.