We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves
Five years ago, I did not possess the skills needed of a good teacher. Standing frightened in the headlights of such a realisation led to some behaviour I’m not proud of: I got easily cross with students and staff, I ignored feedback from my mentor, I gossiped about those I felt weren’t being supportive, and I believed some of my colleagues were willing me to fail.
But that’s not the worst part. To feel better I then unconsciously invented clever stories explaining to myself why I did this. These fell into three categories:
- The Victim Story. I made myself out to be an innocent sufferer where I left out the role I played in the problem. I told myself that I was being punished for my virtues, not my vices. I exaggerated my own innocence.
- The Villain Story. I overemphasised other people’s guilt or mistakes.
- The Helpless Story. I thought of myself as someone who was powerless to do anything helpful. I felt convinced that there was no healthy alternative to dealing with the problem, and I felt justified in the action I was about to take.
In order to improve my relationships at work, to feel better about myself and to get better at teaching, I needed to recognise when I was telling these stories so that I could stop. I needed to flip them on their head to tell more useful stories instead; ones that led to a healthy action more in line with the results I wanted. These healthier stories looked like this:
You’re not a victim, you’re an actor
Are you pretending not to notice the role you played in the situation? Face up to the fact that maybe you did something to help cause the problem. Perhaps you were thoughtless? Stop being selective with your perception of yourself.
They’re not a villain, they’re a person
Ask yourself why a reasonable person might do what this person is doing. Replace your judgement with empathy. What if that person was just trying to give you a hand?
You’re not helpless, you’re able
What do you really want? What would you do if that was your true goal? You’d probably openly and honestly discuss the problem rather than gossip. When you refuse to think of yourself as helpless you begin to hold yourself more accountable.
If you can master the stories that you tell yourself, you’ll free yourself of the unhealthy emotions that come with them and will be able to get on with the business of getting better.