How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The ChangingMinds Blog!
Telling Tales of Woe
When you tell stories to other people about things that have happened to you or to other people, do you ever wonder about how these make your listeners feel? Or have you been on the receiving end, wondering what is going on?
We often tell tales of woe, of bad and incompetent people, of illness and harm, of bad luck and more. Unsurprisingly, many of these lead empathetic listeners to experience negative, uncomfortable emotions. Negative feelings are draining. They exhaust the listener as they struggle to regain an even keel rather than fall into negative pits of empathetic fear, anger, depression and so on.
One reason we do this is as a kind of catharsis. Telling tales of woe let's us take the negative feelings we have and push them out and away. Dumping negativity on others is emotional taking, rather than giving, so to balance things out, we may take turns in telling negative stories. Ilsten to your tales of woe, so will listen to mine.
Oddly, trading woes can be a kind of status game as we imply 'my woes are worse than yours' and that a net sympathy should flow in our direction. In playing these games people often cheat by exaggerating the negatives, making moderate things bad and bad things terrible.
Sometimes we tell negative stories as reassurance, effectively saying 'things could be worse'. It may be done as a direct response to a received woe, though this can easily be misconstrued as criticism. Such woe tales may also be used as implied reassurance in everyday conversation to tell one another that our sad lives could always be worse.
The mood of the stories we tell often reflects our own unconscious state. When we are feeling negative, we are more likely to tell negative stories, and, with the introspective nature of negativity, we may not notice ourselves doing this.
When conversing with others, do be aware of the emotional impact of the stories you tell. If they are negative, wonder why you are telling them. If you still have to do this, buy the sympathy you need by listening first to their tales of woe. Also tell more positive stories or otherwise motivate them to listen more willingly.
And the big