Our Narrative of Others

We sometimes have a narrative of others in our head.* Sometimes these narratives are kind, loving, encouraging and so on. But other times we judge, condemn, hold in contempt others by brewing up ugly stories about them and their intentions. Ultimately, this can ruin a good relationship or prolong the separation of an already maligned one. This reflection reminds me of my sister, Kate.

Cousins on the dock at Birch Haven Resort.

Cousins on the dock at Birch Haven Resort.

Some 20 years ago, my wife and I courted, engaged and married. We met each other at Kate’s high school graduation party. We were older siblings tagging along with “the kids,” and our eyes met. That was it. Like George and Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life, we hit it off, married, and had a bunch of kids.

However, some pretty cruel things were said between my sister and me during the time I was falling in love with Wendy. I don’t really want to hash out what was said, but let’s just say it created a tense brother-sister relationship that was irritating — never quite the same, but tolerable.

A couple years after our marriage, Kate got married. That marriage eventually fell apart and Kate remarried. By then, our relationship had moved from irritating to not even speaking to each other. I’m ashamed to say, Wendy and I weren’t even invited to the second wedding.

This wasn’t good. Family get-togethers were tense. Kate and I avoided each other at all costs, afraid that talking about anything would lead to one of us blowing our top. We both resolved to just “not go there” and totally ignore each other.

It was then that Wendy and I came up with an ideaWe very deliberately and intentionally started to tell ourselves a good story about Kate. Before, I had the most contemptuous story in my head of Kate. I would drudge up all the reasons in the world to be justified in my judgment, but it was a spiral down into depths of judgment that put a gridlock on our relationship. It took some time, but what began to form in my mind was an image of Kate that was quite pleasant.

I began seeing Kate for the wonderful person I remembered her to be before the nasty things said years ago. Kate’s always happy and jubulant. She is probably the funniest person in the family, with a laugh and joy that is admirable. I started to roll with a positive story about her, and I began to think fondly of my sister like I used to.

It wasn’t a dilusional thing, mind you. I could have very easily ranted and raved about her stubbornness, crassness, etc. But those were bad stories, and I refused to go there when I thought of her. What I did was formulate a narrative about my sister Kate that overlooked her faults and saw the beauty about her. I guess you can say I started loving her once again.

Do you get what I’m saying? I believe this can work for any estranged relationship. We usually have it backwards: the person we’re upset with has to do something first (apologize, make amends) before we will entertain a positive narrative. With my relationship with Kate, the opposite ended up healing our wounds and today things are great.

I’ll share with you what happened with Kate tomorrow. For now, ask yourself: What estranged relationship do you have that is culminated from a bad story of another? Healing of that relationship may start with you telling yourself a better story.

* I was reminded of this story after listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast Change Our Story, Change Our Lives. It is the same idea, but it is about ourselves instead of others. It’s excellent, and I encourage you to listen to it.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • David Carter

    I am so happy to have reconnected with you, if only through your blog via Facebook, sadly enough after tradgedy stuck a family we both loved and cared about very much. As I check my facebook nightly, I am constantly remined of what a great loving husband and father you are and what a wonderful friend I had. I will purpose to visit you the next time my travels take me to Colorado…May God Bless you and your family.

    • What a very nice note. Thanks David. Yes, let’s connect next time you’re in town. God bless you, too!

  • Guest

    This makes total sense to me. I have had a couple situations that were similar. When my husband and I were first married, my inlaws couldn’t get past some things about me and my personality (mostly that I didn’t do things their way) and for awhile did not speak to me nor even acknowledge my existence. I had a pretty negative narrative in my head for quite awhile. Then, one day, my sister was speaking with someone at work who mentioned my inlaws. She explained how she was related through her sister and the woman said, “You mean, your sister is THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW!” When I heard this, I was a little hurt, but realized that my friends could’ve said the same thing if they met someone who knew my mil. It made me think of the fact that how I was thinking about my inlaws contributed to how I continued to feel about them. Eventually, I apologized for my part of our relational difficulties. I did not receive an apology from them, but we do now have a decent relationship for the most part.

    One situation that I’ve had, though, where this change of mindset did not heal a relationship, is my younger brother who estranged himself from the family years ago. We’ve tried to reconcile a couple times, and I have no ill will towards him at all. However, he does not return emails, texts, or phone calls. I am waiting patiently for him to decide to contact me again. It has been now about 3yrs. It is good for me that I have a positive narrative in my head, but it doesn’t always heal a relationship….. just makes it possible. So glad that you and your sister have reconnected!

    • I totally get what your saying about your brother. One of our adult children (we have 4) is this way, and Wendy and I continue to pray that things will turn right someday. The only thing we have control over is our own thoughts. So we try to think the best!

      • Darla

        Have you tried offering her an apology?