Do you ever find yourself repeating a familiar and not so useful pattern? Beating yourself up, getting worked up about something relatively trivial, feeling anxious for no good reason, having the same old argument with yourself! Sometimes we just suddenly notice that we’re doing it, and wonder how we managed to get ourselves in such a state. And sometimes we manage to stay there for hours, or even days!
I think of it as being caught up in a story, like when you read or watch something gripping and feel as if you are one of the characters being portrayed. It is a narrowing of perspective, focussing in on something as if it is your whole world and nature. Yet a part of us knows that it is not real, that it is not who we really are, nor the whole story. So we need to know how to ‘un-catch’ ourselves, regain a fuller perspective, and find a more useful way forward.
First of all, we need to recognise that we are caught up in a story and not just sit there. That part is easy: just notice how your body is. When we’re caught up, it literally feels tight, restricted. Our breathing is faster, our shoulders are tense, and our bellies are uncomfortable. We feel like we would if we had been trapped in something unexpectedly. And our minds are out of control, whizzing through all the stupid things we’ve done, or all the possible reasons for being anxious now and in the future, or all the ways in which we’re hard done by.
Once we get better at identifying the signs of being caught up, we can begin to release ourselves more quickly. We need a trigger to start the process – or, more accurately, to begin to stop it! I tend to say something to myself, like: ‘Hang on a minute!’ or ‘This isn’t me’.
Just by breaking into it for a moment, we interrupt the story enough to reduce its stranglehold on us. Sometimes I can then bring myself out: a couple of deep breaths, a step or two back from the narrative in my head, and I can begin to regain some perspective. At that point, I can start to see how I can deal with it differently.
And sometimes I know that I need help. I may have recognised that I’m caught up in the story, but it’s still running. That’s when we need a friend, someone who will play witness to our story and help us to remember that we’re more than that, that we have it out of proportion. Thank God for friends!
Being caught up in the story is neither comfortable nor useful to us. It restricts us in our thinking, our behaviours and our souls. Let’s break out of those nets as quickly as we can, and be the wonderful human beings we really are!