Learning Life Lessons: Story Fondling and Judge Your Neighbor

So I feel like I have been painfully (emotionally at least) learning all sorts of life lessons this week. It really has been a week of transformation for me in a lot of ways.   

One thing in particular happened today.  I decided to share this with you because one, I am trying to be more real, vulnerable, and open about my life and thoughts.  And two, because I feel like the tools that I share here could be helpful to you as well.  I’m all for sharing goodness. 


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


Anyway, I was annoyed about an interaction that I had with a friend (we’ll just call her Bertha).  This isn’t the first time I’ve had this sort of interaction with Bertha so I was feeling extra frustrated about it (and being on my period doesn’t help either.  haha.) I decided to talk to another friend (we’ll call her Barbie) about it, you know to just “vent.”  We chatted about it for a bit but then she had to go to an appointment. 


And I started feeling really yucky inside about the whole thing. I really regretted saying anything to Barbie about the situation (or my feelings about it). I felt embarrassed for being so stuck up and for gossiping. I felt a mixture of shame and guilt. And I started thinking about how I was just story fondling. Jody (my life coach) talks about this a lot. I think the original idea comes from Martha Beck.  It’s basically when you just keep talking to someone (or multiple people) about your story (about a situation or person) that you are having a hard time with. And the more you talk about it, the more you build up and find evidence for your beliefs about what is going on in that story. You just increase your victim mindset.  It’s not useful or helpful. 


I found this random blog post that talked about story fondling and I liked how she explained it…

“It’s as if staying fully engaged with the problem prevents people from having to come up with a solution. There’s an issue, poppets, when we love the story of our problem so much that we can’t bear to let it go. We’re “story fondling”, as my friend Martha Beck calls it. We love our story. We absolutely adore it. We hold it close, as if it were a tiny baby needing our tender, loving care. But when we story fondle, we allow our problem to define us and shape our decision-making. 

Which is the opposite of forgiveness. 

And only prolongs the pain. 

The only way forward, as you may have heard, is through. To get unstuck, once and for all, you have to stop focusing on the problem and start focusing on the solution.  

You have to break up with the problem and start dating a solution. Or play the field if you want and try several solutions. 

Sure, sometimes we fondle our problem in an attempt to understand it. And that’s important — understanding the pain can help us craft a solution that works. But 30 years of fondling? Excessive. That’s 30 years of living life in pain, and on hold. Which might feel safe, but is ultimately a waste.”

 Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

I really liked these thoughts on story fondling as well…

“I know that stories have a powerful—and often positive—influence on us humans. The story of someone’s struggle, her persistence or fearlessness, can ignite the flame of knowledge and faith we need to light our way. There are circumstances where retelling past problems is not only appropriate but imperative: for example, moments when you are lost in inner darkness and revealing your story will lead you to people of compassion; times when talking about your struggle can help others with the same problem; instances where talking openly can shine a spotlight on injustice or cruelty that flourishes in the dark created by secrets.  

These are times for storytelling, and I wish I could say I’ve encountered any of them today, but I haven’t. As I obsess about my ancient problems, I feel more like I’m sinking in quicksand than lighting a torch. I’m creating neither heat nor light, just the icky, perversely pleasurable squish of self-pity between my toes. My only defense is that I’m not the only one down here in the muck—our whole culture is doting on tales of personal tragedy.  

Ever since Freud first showed that we could treat psychological ailments by discussing our past, the “talking cure” has trickled its way into every part of society. Today many people (even many therapists) assume that going over the reasons we’re unhappy is, in itself, sufficient to create happiness. If this were true, cogitating on our most painful stories would be a cure-all. Unfortunately, there comes a point when talking about our mental block stops being a solution and becomes the problem. That point is marked by a large red flag, on which is written simply: SELF-PITY.”


So after feeling bad about the situation (the original issue with Bertha and story fondling about it with Barbie) for a while, I realized that when I am having one of these experiences where I am feeling annoyed or hurt or insecure or something, instead of going to a friend (or even J) and “venting” (story fondling) about my experience/frustration, I could do something more constructive like a thought download (just get a piece of paper and write down any and all thoughts that are swimming around in my head. Just get it all out.) And also, I could work on just processing the negative emotion(s) that I am feeling at that moment. 


Because “venting” always seems like a good idea, and that it will make me feel better. But 99% of the time, I end up just feeling worse. Even if my friend validates me and my thoughts/feelings about my situation, I end up feeling yucky inside – probably because the spirit withdraws.  And the problem never really gets solved.


Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash


Coincidentally, another friend (not knowing about my current situation) actually reminded me today of another resource that could help me.  It’s the “Judge your Neighbor” worksheet by Byron Katie.  I found the worksheet online, printed it off, and filled it out.  The title of the worksheet sounds unproductive and “judgey” but it is actually super helpful and very eye opening. 


After I filled it out, I was thinking about it and it all basically boils down to the first statement that I filled out…


I am _______________ with _______________ because ____________________.


I am frustrated with Bertha because she doesn’t want to be real friends with me.


The four questions that I had to ask about this statement (and a few other statements that I had to fill out) are:


1. Is it true?

2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?

4. Who would you be without that thought? 


So to answer questions 3 and 4, I ran it through the CTFAR model.  (I need to write more about the model sometime, but I learned it from Jody.  Basically, Circumstances trigger Thoughts which create our Feelings, which create our Actions, which create our Results. The result points back to the thought. So if I want a different result with something in my life then I need to change my thought.)  




Circumstance: Interaction with Bertha

Thought: Bertha doesn’t want to be real friends with me. She just puts on a show.

Feeling: Insecure

Action: Talk about myself a lot, trying to convince her to like me.

Result: Bertha gets annoyed with me and disengages and distances herself.  She isn’t interested in being real friends with me.


Change to: 


Circumstance: Interaction with Bertha

Thought: I am going to be a good friend and focus on Bertha instead of me.

Feeling: Secure, loving, encouraging

Action: I am a good listener and friend.

Result: Bertha feels loved and valued


and then to: 


Circumstance: Bertha feels loved and valued in our friendship and through our interactions

Thought: I am a good friend.

Feeling: Confident, secure, kind

Action: I show up as a good friend (good listener, inviter, includer, server, etc.)

Result: Bertha and I have a genuine friendship and we both feel valuable and loved.


To turn the thought around, I had to do three things:


a) to the self: 

I don’t want to be real friends with me. I just put on a show.


b) to the other: 

I don’t want to be real friends with Bertha. I just put on a show.


c) to the opposite: 

Bertha does want to be real friends with me. She doesn’t put on a show.


This whole exercise was pretty eye opening. It made me realize a lot of things.  Here are the main ones: 


One, I think I am more insecure than I thought I was and that feeling drives some (a lot?) of my actions, especially with my friendships (and not just with Bertha, but with all of my friends to one degree or another.)


Two, I keep expecting Bertha to be a genuine friend to me, but I am not really a genuine friend to her. I want her to listen (really listen) to me and to be interested in me, but I don’t listen (really listen) to her and I’m not really interested in her. Basically, I’m a hypocrite.


Three, I have more power in this situation than I realized before. It’s all in my thinking. I need to change my thought from “Bertha doesn’t want to be real friends with me” to “I want to be a real friend to Bertha.” Again, it’s just like what I’ve been trying to work on this week and change about myself. When I am self-centered that doesn’t make me happy. Being focused on others is where true happiness comes from.

All of this reminds me of this short Mormon Message video.

“Are we looking through a window which needs cleaning? Are we making judgments when we don’t have all the facts? 

Said the Savior, “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in my brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” 

Or, to paraphrase, why beholdest thou what you think is dirty laundry at your neighbor’s house but considerest not the soiled window in your own house? There’s really no way we can know the heart, the intentions, or the circumstances of someone who might say or do something we find reason to criticize. Thus the commandment: “Judge not.”” (Thomas S. Monson)


I hope that sharing all of this was helpful for at least one of you and I would highly recommend checking out the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet and plugging your situations into the CTFAR model.  You will find clarity, power, and freedom.

I’ve got some work to do myself, but I’m glad that I can see the solution more clearly now. 🙂

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