How we tell our own personal stories often depends on who we’re telling them to. We might exaggerate, minimize, dramatize, leave out or amplify certain details.
Exercise: Here is the story: you are coming out of a movie theatre at seven in the evening when you are mugged, he asks you for money, takes it, pushes you down and runs away. Now, tell this story to your mother, best friend, romantic partner, therapist, police officer.
Now this is fun.
Mother: “Oh, it was nothing, some guy asked me for money and then I slipped on something, there must’ve been some stick or something on the sidewalk. I didn’t have hardly any money on me anyway, so he sure picked the right time to rob me! Well, the wrong time for him! [mom: where was husband] “I wanted to see this movie, and Paul really didn’t so I went on a night he was working late.” [you’ve got to be more careful or you’ll get raped running around the way you do] “There were people right around the corner, I should’ve just screamed and he’d have run off but I guess I thought it’d be easier to just give him the ten bucks and get rid of him.” Minimizing, avoiding the issue of fight with husband.
Best friend: “It was all Paul’s fault, we’d had this huge fight that morning and then he called to say he was working late and we had another fight right then, so instead of going home I went to see the new movie, I left before the end and I was crying so I went down a side street by mistake, oh, it was awful, and all I could think was it’d suit him right for me to be killed and he’d know the last time we talked he was being such a pisspot.” Blaming husband.
Romantic partner: “It was awful, this horrid man, he was dirty and ugly, he looked mean, and I thought he was going to kill me so when he asked for money I was almost relieved but I thought he was going to rape me, he kept looking at me, my legs and my boobs, and he smiled a little bit, but other people were walking by up at the corner so I guess he figured he wouldn’t be able to get away with it, he’d get caught so he pushed me down, he was so rough, he shoved me by the arm, look, is there a bruise? I’ll have to wear sleeves for a while, and I scraped my knee on the sidewalk, see, I’m going to have a big ugly scab, but at least I’m alive, wow, when I think of what could’ve happened.” Garnering sympathy, exaggerating trauma, hoping he’ll feel bad.
Therapist: “I feel a little weird because I wasn’t more scared. I mean, it just wasn’t that scary. He asked me for money the way panhandlers do, if I’d said no he might’ve just shrugged and walked away, he wasn’t a big guy. I don’t know why he pushed me, maybe he was afraid of me, I don’t know, it was strange, but I should’ve been paying attention to where I was going and used the crosswalk and gone down Forest instead of cutting through the alley. I know better. You know how you’re always telling me I make it a habit to set myself up? Well, I think I did it again, this time.” Relative honesty about her own role, insight.
Police officer: “I can’t really describe him, he looked like a street guy, he wore a jacket over a flannel shirt and his hair was kind of long, like over his ears but not on his shoulders, I don’t know what color his eyes were, he was a little shorter than me, average build, I don’t really know, I doubt I’d recognize him again, he looks like all of them, the panhandlers and the bums on the street.” Relative honest victim account, downplayed because she doesn’t want to be bothered with police.