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  • Andrew Hawkins

Changing the Narratives

In the last post, we related the observation of many--addictions are often rooted in the deeper problem of unhealthy relationships. We may overeat, gossip, gamble, do drugs, engage in promiscuous activity because we don't have satisfying connections with others. Often, the reason we experience distance from neighbours, friends and even family members is that we don't know how to handle the conflicts which arise when we get close.

At Recover Together, I recently shared a wonderful tool (pictured in the graphic below) for overcoming this problem. It comes from Crucial Conversations, a wonderful book on conflict resolution.

The diagram depicts the path to conflict which we often take. As you will see, there is a progression from left to right.

The Path to Conflict

You see someone do something that offends you.

Fact: She walked by you at church without saying hello.

Interpretation: You tell yourself a story such as, “She doesn't like me."

Emotion: This story makes you feel rejected and angry.

Behaviour: These feelings cause you to act negatively toward the individual. This negative behaviour will be manifested as either silence or violence. In the case of silence you may seek to avoid the person whenever you see them e.g. you deliberately sit on the other side of the church auditorium. If, on the other hand, your go-to response is violence, you may speak rudely to the individual or gossip about them to others.


Retracing Your Path

When you catch yourself in either silence or violence toward someone, you may begin to bring restoration to the relationship by retracing the path that led to those feelings. To do this, you take the path above but in the opposite direction j.e. you start at the right side of the graphic.

Behaviour: Notice your behaviour. Ask yourself if you are in some form of silence or violence.

Feelings: Get in touch with your feelings: "What emotions are encouraging me to act this way? Is it anger? Embarrassment? Shame? Feeling violated? Cheated?"

Stories: Analyze the story that is creating these emotions. Are you telling yourself something like, "She doesn’t like me," or, "She thinks she’s better than everyone else,"?

Facts: It's absolutely essential to get back to the facts. What actually happened concretely? You didn't see her "not liking" you. "She doesn't like me," was your interpretation (story) of the actual facts which was simply that she walked by you at church without saying hello.


Telling Yourself a Better Story

Taking the time to think through this process is crucial. We make up stories so fast and uncritically accept them as true. This leads to negative emotions and behaviour.

Once we have drilled down to the actual facts, we will be in a position to step back and think instead of merely reacting. Perhaps we can see a better interpretation of what we've observed.

When it’s not clear whether the person’s actions are offensive or not, look for the most charitable explanation. There are other possible reasons she walked by you in church. Maybe she was preoccupied with her mother being in the hospital or her son having trouble at school. Maybe she was thinking about where she was going to sit in church.

When the person is clearly in the wrong, look for the best possible motive, for example, an individual puts you down in front of others or gossips about you to a friend. Here, Jesus shows us the way when he says the men who crucified him were not conscious of what they were doing. They drive nails through his hands and feet deep into the thick wooden beams so that he might die a slow, tortured death, and yet Jesus prays for them, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

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