I got mad at my 15-year-old son a few weeks ago. He is one of the finest young men you’d meet. He’s as honest as the day is long. He is smart, kind, clever, and as industrious as they come. I love this boy.
Yet, I found myself seething at him. In the moment, I felt he was rude, cold, ungrateful, and manipulative.
At least that was my story about him.
The Problem With Stories
The story I told myself about my son generated a strong emotion that caused me to say something hurtful to him.
He wasn’t behaving the way I wanted him to act. And in the zeal of the moment, I felt (with insane certainty) that a well-aimed tirade may help reform his life beginning that very moment. As a loving parent, ranting seemed to be my moral duty.
Emotions Aren’t Reliable
As the tension increased between me and my son, so did my anger and frustration… and it felt justified. But, in the past 10 years, I’ve realised two things about emotions:
1. Emotions feel undeniably true during a crucial moment…
2. But they usually are false.
And this embarrassing moment exemplified just how this works.
Fortunately, I’ve learned some things over this past decade. First, I know to be suspicious of my convictions during these highly emotional moments. Instead of letting my emotions take control, I can choose a strategy to help me create an entirely different set of emotions.
I’ve also learned how much these emotions can corrupt my view of others — even people I love. In the midst of victim and villain stories, my motives degenerate. Instead of seeing reality, I’m driven by a desperate need to be right. I don’t see others as they really are — and even my precious son can look like a monster.
Challenge Your Story
As my brain tried to force an unhelpful sentence out of my mouth aimed at the heart of my son, I did was we’ve advised you to do in similar circumstances.
I asked myself, “What do I really want?”
I challenged my story.
I asked myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person do what he did?”
In a matter of seconds, I felt my muscles relax. My shoulders dropped. My hands unclenched — and my heart did too.
As this happened, my son transformed in front of me. He was no longer a monster. He was a vulnerable, beautiful, precious boy. Moments earlier, I was thoroughly convinced my view of him was just and true. But now I had an entirely different view that was even more just and true.
Our emotions are incredibly pliable. And in crucial moments, they’re almost always wrong. But with practice, we gain an incredible power to change them. And as we change them, not only do we see people differently, we learn to change our very lives.