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How to Change the Narrative When Your Emotions Are Holding You Hostage

How to Change the Narrative When Your Emotions Are Holding You Hostage | focuswithmarlene.com

The words we repeat over and over again have an emotional effect on us. They can hold us hostage to everything that is going wrong. When things go well, our stories are upbeat and hopeful. When life takes a downturn, so does our narrative. The focus shifts to what we lost and how miserable we feel.

Step out of the emotional arena, take a deep breath and think about the possibilities you have. Change your narrative from what you can’t do to what you can.

Here are seven ways you can change a pessimistic narrative to an optimistic one.

1. Become aware of what you say to yourself.

Unexpected catastrophes and setbacks due to illness or losses result in drastic changes. Our first reaction is feeling overwhelmed and helpless.

Our internal dialogue has consequences. Self-talk that reflects incompetence will rob you of the motivation you need to find a way forward.

Shift your focus to what you can do instead of everything that went wrong.

2. Step out of the emotional arena.

When we concentrate on how we feel, it is difficult to look for options. There is a cost and benefit to everything we do.

What emotional payoff are you getting by clinging to a pessimistic narrative, and what is the long-term cost?

3. Evaluate and clarify.

There are many components to events that create havoc in our lives. Do a quick assessment. Oftentimes things won’t look quite as bad when we broaden our perspective.

  • What can we fix right now?
  • What needs to be worked on over time?
  • What pieces can we salvage to create a new picture of success?

4. Consider other people in your life.

Problems and catastrophes tend to make us feel irritable and defensive. Anxiety about our future can make it difficult to communicate our wants and needs.

Be honest about what you are experiencing.

Don’t expect others to know how you feel, your level of anxiety or concerns.

We are often hesitant to speak about our vulnerabilities, but we gain inner strength when we can articulate our fears and anxieties.

5. Work together on solutions.

Problems can put a strain on family and close relationships. Personality traits and resistant tendencies affect our ability to work toward satisfactory resolutions.

What are you bringing to the table that can make it difficult to have a discussion?

How can a change in narrative help?

Change your demand of “you have to change” to one of “we can work together.”

Communicate your wants and needs; but also listen respectfully to the wants and needs and feelings of others.

6. Know what triggers your defense mechanism.

Remind yourself to stop, think and consider whenever you have a knee-jerk defense/attack response.

Are you saying or doing things that trigger another person’s need to attack and defend?

We can listen, respect differences and accept another’s point of view while setting logical and practical guidelines for discussion. This establishes rules of engagement that allow us to step back and take a time out if necessary to cool off.

7. Solution Focus Therapy offers a different approach to problems.

It asks you to imagine going to bed at night and waking in the morning with your problem solved.

  • What would that look like?
  • What would you be doing and how would you feel?

Focusing attention on the solution rather than the problem, allows us a new narrative.

Think about when life was different – a time when things were going well and you were happy.

  • What were you doing to make that happen?
  • When did life change and the problem begin? (See reference link at bottom)

Not all problems are resolved to our satisfaction. But we can start anew by changing the narrative of our story from reactive to proactive where we actively look for solutions.

Marlene Anderson


Ackerman, C. (2017). What is solution-focused therapy: 3 essential techniques. Positive Psychology Program. Retrieved on 24 January, 2018,

O’Hanlon and Weiner-Davis, Michele, In Search of Solutions, 2003, W. W. Norton & Co. Inc.

Metcalf, Linda, PhD, Solution Focused Narrative Therapy, 2017, Springer Publishing Co., N.Y.

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