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I’m on a heartfelt journey to own my story. Right now, I’m devouring psychology books and theories and exploring personal development like they’re soul food. Why? Because I’m arming myself with the language and tools I need to dig deep into the core of who I am. I’m learning to name my feelings, make sense of my experiences, and even give voice to my dreams. And let me tell you, there’s something downright magical about that.

Growing up, I only had my dad. My mom was never in the picture. And my dad? Well, he was more than just strict; he was physically and emotionally abusive. I’ve got the scars to prove it—both the ones you can see and the ones you can’t.

I used to carry a heavy load of bitterness toward my dad. I couldn’t stand how he treated me. But here’s the twist: Over time, I’ve found a surreally beautiful sense of gratitude for my upbringing. I’ve realized that I’m far from alone. So many people carry the weight of childhood traumas—whether it’s from broken homes, abusive parents, violence, poverty, or family members lost in the maze of drugs and crime. We’re all a mix of broken and beautiful, each of us in our own special way.

My story isn’t a tale of woe. It’s filled with moments of joy and love that I’ve discovered along my journey. Now that I’ve claimed ownership of my story, I hold the pen to my life’s next chapter. I use my past, and the peace I’ve made with it, as a wellspring of empathy. It fuels my passion for connecting with others and infusing kindness and vulnerability into the world. It makes me a better dad and a more compassionate leader.

Building Emotional Muscle Memory

I’ve worked hard to understand and fully embrace my story. It hasn’t been easy, but the strength I’ve gained is immeasurable. Today, my life’s mission is crystal clear: to offer my family and the people in my life the emotional richness that was missing from my own upbringing. I want to live each day with empathy, kindness, love, and open-hearted vulnerability toward everyone I encounter.

When I first started this journey of self-discovery and healing, it felt like climbing a mountain without any gear. Every step was a struggle. But as I’ve moved forward, some aspects of this new way of living have become second nature to me. It’s like muscle memory for the soul. Yet, the journey is far from over. Each day presents new challenges, new corners of my personality that need a little more work, a little more understanding.

And you know what? I welcome these challenges. Because this journey—this ongoing quest for personal growth, for deeper meaning, for genuine connection, for vulnerability and kindness—fills my life with a joy that’s hard to put into words. I’m not just living my life; I’m leading it. I’m owning my story with passion, and every day offers a new opportunity to own it even more fully.

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is a really fascinating idea in the world of language and psychology; it’s a game-changer in understanding how our language shapes our thoughts, feelings, and even our worldview. Think of your language as a toolbox. The tools, or words you have, determine what you can build or fix in your life.

Imagine you speak a language that has multiple words for different types of snow. You’d have a word for the fluffy snow that’s perfect for making snowmen, another for the icy, slippery kind, and yet another for the wet snow that soaks through your boots. This rich vocabulary would make you more attuned to the nuances of winter weather. You’d not only notice but also appreciate the differences, giving you a more complex understanding of your snowy environment.

On the other hand, consider a language that doesn’t have a future tense. In such a language, you wouldn’t say, “I will go to the store tomorrow.” Instead, you might say something like, “I go to the store tomorrow.” This lack of a future tense could shape how you think about what lies ahead. You might not spend as much time planning or worrying about future events because your language naturally keeps you anchored in the present. Your approach to life could be more immediate, more here-and-now, compared to someone whose language has a future tense and who might be more focused on planning and anticipating.

So, you see, the words we have at our disposal don’t just label our experiences; they shape them. They influence how we engage with the world and even how we think about time and space. The words we use are like tools that help us construct our own stories. Our words and vocabulary become frameworks of understanding. And the more frameworks we have access to, the better we can understand and describe our experiences, emotions, and aspirations. This isn’t just about labeling things; it’s about truly understanding them.

When life throws curveballs my way—be it a stressful situation, a challenging relationship, or a work blunder—I often find myself drowning in raw emotions like anger, frustration, and betrayal. In those moments, I’m painting my feelings with broad brush strokes, missing the finer details that could guide me to a better path. That’s why I need the right vocabulary and frameworks. They help me get specific, regain control, and move forward with purpose.

That’s why we’re diving deep into topics like beliefs, values, and the difference between descriptive and prescriptive language. This is why I study and write about things like active constructive responding, emotional intelligence, thinking traps, explanatory styles, and self-awareness.

These aren’t just words; they’re the tools and frameworks we need to see and own our personal narratives. Whether we’re talking about the complexities of human emotion or the nuances of our personal narratives, the words we choose are crucial. That’s why expanding our vocabulary and exploring these concepts is so empowering. It equips us to take control of our stories and, ultimately, our lives.

Frameworks For Naming Our Experiences

Frameworks for naming our experiences are crucial. The words we pick can paint our experiences in vivid colors, giving shape and depth to what we’re going through. When you’re struggling with something difficult, the right words act like a roadmap. They help you figure out where you are, what you’re feeling, and where you need to go next.

Brené Brown often discusses the importance of having the vocabulary to name emotions, experiences, and situations. She believes that being able to articulate what you’re feeling or going through is crucial for emotional intelligence and self-awareness. In her work, she often talks about the power of vulnerability, and part of being vulnerable is being able to accurately name and share your emotions or experiences.

Brown emphasizes that when you can name something, you have the power to understand it, discuss it, and deal with it. This is a key part of her teachings on shame resilience, empathy, and emotional well-being. She often cites research that shows the more options you have to describe your emotional state, the better equipped you are to manage and cope with your feelings in a healthy way.

Let’s say you’re dealing with a difficult coworker. If you can’t identify and describe what’s bothering you, you’re essentially in the dark. You might just feel “bad” or “upset.” But the moment you find the right words—like saying, “I feel undermined” or “I feel disrespected”—you’ve found your starting point. Naming your feelings is a big deal; it’s the first step in owning your experience. Once you own your feelings, you gain the power to take control of the situation.

Asking for help also becomes a whole lot easier when you can put your experience into words. If you just tell a friend, “Work is stressful,” they’re left guessing how to support you. But if you say, “I feel like my coworker doesn’t value my contributions,” your friend gets it. They can offer advice or empathy that hits the mark.

Consider my relationship with my father. To truly heal and grow, I had to go beyond surface-level understanding. I needed to dig deep into how his actions and behavior affected me, not just as a kid but also as the adult I’ve become. This wasn’t about sticking labels on a tough past; it was about examining those experiences in clear and specific terms. In doing so, I changed the game. I moved from being a passive bystander in my own history to an active shaper of my future—and crucially, the future of my children.

While I’m sharing stories about my dad to make my point, this wisdom applies to so many parts of our lives. Whether you’re grappling with a toxic coworker, a difficult family member, a work mishap, or a spat with your partner, the key is the same. Having the words to accurately describe what’s going on gives you the power to take the reins. When you can name the issue, you’re not just identifying the problem—you’re taking the first step to owning the solution.

Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

There are two lenses through which you can view any situation: the descriptive and the prescriptive. Here’s the core difference: Descriptive is all about seeing what’s really happening, like a camera capturing a moment. It doesn’t judge or set rules; it just shows you what’s going on. On the other hand, prescriptive acts like a coach or a guidebook. It gives you the “shoulds,” laying down the rules for how things ought to be.

Both the descriptive and prescriptive lenses bring something special to the table. The descriptive lens is like your life’s camera, capturing things just as they are. It helps you get to the heart of your own story by showing you how people really act and how events truly unfold. On the flip side, the prescriptive lens acts like your life’s coach. It gives you the “shoulds,” the guidelines that help you make choices, especially when ethics come into play. While the descriptive lens helps you understand your story and the world in their raw forms, the prescriptive lens gives you the power to steer your own narrative. But be cautious—this lens can also color your understanding with your own biases.

When I think about my relationship with my dad, I can view it through these two distinct lenses. The descriptive lens allows me to see the raw truth, like, “My dad had his struggles and often didn’t handle them well.” I’m not judging it as good or bad; I’m just stating the facts.

On the flip side, the prescriptive lens offers me some ground rules, like, “A dad should be emotionally supportive and not give in to anger.” This way of seeing things gives me a roadmap for how I want to show up differently, especially as a parent myself. But watch out: this lens could also tempt me to hold onto resentment toward him for failing to meet that standard. Both ways of looking at the relationship with my dad give me important insights. They help me understand where I’ve come from and guide me in crafting the future I desire.

Objective vs. Subjective

Next, let’s dive into the difference between objective and subjective viewpoints, two perspectives that shape how we understand and talk about our experiences. When we say something is objective, we mean it’s based on facts that anyone can verify. For instance, if I say, “My dad was a single parent,” that’s an objective statement because it’s a fact that doesn’t hinge on personal feelings. On the flip side, subjective statements are rooted in personal opinions or feelings. So, if I say, “My dad was difficult,” that’s subjective because it’s based on my personal experience and emotions.

Taking the time to understand the difference between objective and subjective viewpoints is crucial, especially when we’re knee-deep in our own experiences. We often see things through the filter of our political or religious beliefs, mistakenly thinking we’re being objective. Statements like “Higher taxes are what’s best for America” or “Lower taxes are what’s best for America” might feel completely objective to some of us, but they’re not. This becomes even more important—and tricky—when we’re talking about situations or relationships that we’re personally invested in.

For example, let’s dive into that phrase, “My dad was difficult.” At first glance, it’s descriptive because it paints a picture of my relationship with him. But here’s the kicker: the word “difficult” is loaded with personal feelings. What I find “difficult” might not be the same for someone else who knew him. Plus, we all have unique experiences that shape our perspectives. Maybe someone else had more positive interactions with him, which would make their viewpoint different from mine. So, this statement is a two-for-one deal. It’s descriptive because it outlines a viewpoint, but it’s also subjective because that viewpoint is steeped in my personal feelings and experiences.

Now, let’s consider an objective, descriptive statement like, “My dad was a single parent.” It’s descriptive because it tells us something about my family structure, and it’s objective because anyone who looks at the facts would agree—it’s not up for debate.

So, here’s the heart of it: Objective and subjective focus on the source of the information—either facts or personal feelings. Descriptive and prescriptive focus on what we’re supposed to do with that information—either describe it or offer guidelines for action. Each pair of terms gives us a unique lens to understand and talk about our experiences, especially when it comes to complex relationships like the one with my dad.

Stepping back to see a situation through a totally objective and descriptive lens is no small feat, especially when it hits close to home. Trust me, I’ve been there. Our perspectives are often marinated in our own biases and emotions. My daughter summed it up perfectly when she said, “The only way you can be completely unbiased is if you know nothing about it or have no part in it.” That’s some real talk. Our personal experiences and feelings can cloud our judgment, making it hard to see things as they truly are. But acknowledging these biases is a huge step in understanding how it shapes our story.

Beliefs vs. Values

Beliefs and values are like two sides of the same coin, each playing a unique role in shaping our lives. Beliefs act as our descriptive lens, painting a picture of how we see the world. For instance, I might believe that parents naturally serve as role models for their kids, whether they intend to or not. This belief doesn’t dictate how I should behave; it just frames how I think my actions might influence my children.

Values, however, are the prescriptive road signs that guide our actions. They’re the “shoulds” that we live by. Take, for example, the value that “People should treat each other with kindness and respect.” Notice the word “should” in there? That’s your clue that it’s a value, a guideline for how we think the world ought to operate.

In my own journey as a parent, one of my cornerstone values is to always offer emotional support and connection to my kids, especially because that was something I didn’t always get from my dad. This value doesn’t just float around in my head; it actively shapes how I parent. It’s like my moral GPS, pointing me toward the kind of dad I aim to be. So, while my beliefs help me make sense of my past and the world around me, my values are the flashlight illuminating the path to the future I want to build.

Identifying Lagging Skills

Let’s explore a concept that provides a great example of everything we’ve discussed up to this point. This concept brings together everything I’ve learned about being descriptive, prescriptive, objective, and subjective, as well as my values and beliefs. It shows the strength we gain when we apply these intentional perspectives to our own stories.

When I step back and really look at my dad’s actions, I start to see my past and future more clearly. At first, I felt like I was just the target of his mistakes. But when I dig deeper, I see a man who was drowning in his own struggles. He didn’t have the tools to be the dad I needed. Overwhelmed by single parenthood, he turned to unhealthy coping methods like drugs and alcohol. When life got tough, he’d lose control, lashing out and blaming everyone but himself. He simply didn’t have the skills to be the dad he should’ve been.

These behaviors are a perfect example of what we call lagging skills. These are abilities that haven’t fully developed yet or are behind what’s usually expected for someone’s age or life situation. They’re not “bad” or “wrong”; they’re just areas where someone might need extra help or time to catch up. For instance, a child might struggle with controlling their emotions, or an adult might find it hard to stay organized at work.

Lagging skills in adults often appear as challenges in managing emotions, coping mechanisms and substance abuse, and communicating effectively. These gaps don’t just stay in one corner of your life; they ripple out, affecting everything from your relationships to how you do your job. But here’s the heart of it: spotting these gaps isn’t about pointing out what’s wrong with you. It’s about shining a light on where you can grow and get better.

In my relationship with my dad, it became clear that he had several lagging skills, particularly in emotional intelligence and effective coping strategies. As Houston Kraft wisely says, “There are things that we don’t know we are unaware of – competencies that, if we’ve never been explicitly taught, we end up just ‘taking what we get.’ And it’s not like we, in our adult lives, are actively looking for classes on emotional regulation or forgiveness.”

Understanding this helped me make sense of why he acted the way he did. It also made me think about the skills I want to build in myself, both as a person and as a parent to my own kids. Recognizing these lagging skills aided me in finding my own peace and gaining the clarity I need to grow and make positive changes in my life.

Being able to name and describe those lagging skills in him allows me to focus on developing them more intentionally in myself. We don’t automatically find a better path just because we’ve experienced the wrong one. More often than not, we fall into the same traps. It’s only when we truly understand and name these specific parts of our story that we can start to own it and take control.

Let’s be very clear here: This isn’t about giving a free pass to what my dad did, or anyone else who’s made harmful choices. Not at all. The same principle holds true when we hear about a heart-wrenching crime on the news and find people asking, “What led them to do this?” We’re not in the business of justifying bad behavior or making excuses for it. That’s not what’s happening here. What we’re truly digging for is the “why” behind it all. We’re peeling back the layers to get to the root causes. Once we can name and understand these causes, we’re not just spectators in our lives—we’re in the driver’s seat, empowered to steer our own behavior.

The Power of Frameworks

This framework, lagging skills, among many others, allows me to take a descriptive and objective look at that chapter of my life. When I look back in this way, I become able to look forward more effectively and more intentionally. This is all about owning and shaping my future, especially in regard to how I’ll show up as a parent for my own kids. It’s about digging deep to understand why things happened the way they did. By identifying the root causes of my father’s actions, I can both make peace with my past and consciously choose not to repeat those patterns of behavior in my own life.

Lagging skills are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to frameworks that can help us gain deeper insights into ourselves and others. There’s a whole world of other amazing frameworks out there that can empower us to live more intentionally.

  • Take Active Constructive Responding, for example. This framework gives me a roadmap for having conversations that go beyond small talk and actually deepen the connections I have with people. It’s like a guide for heart-to-heart talks.
  • Then there’s Emotional Intelligence. This isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a toolkit for understanding our own feelings and the emotions of those around us. It helps us navigate social situations with grace and empathy.
  • Thinking traps? They’re those sneaky, distorted thought patterns that can trip us up. Recognizing them is like turning on a light in a dark room. Suddenly, we can see clearly and make better decisions.
  • Explanatory styles are the lenses through which we view life’s ups and downs. They shape our resilience and influence how optimistic we feel, affecting our overall well-being.
  • And let’s not forget the importance of challenging unhealthy masculine stereotypes. Doing this isn’t just good for men; it benefits everyone. It paves the way for genuine self-expression and fosters emotional health, making our relationships richer and more meaningful.

So, you see, each of these frameworks (and many others) offers us unique tools for understanding ourselves and the world around us. They’re like different lenses in a camera, each one helping us capture a clearer, more focused picture of how to live a more authentic, connected life.

When I find the right words and structures through which I can describe and understand my life, it’s like flipping on a light switch. Suddenly, I see my history and my future in a way I never did before. This newfound clarity empowers me to be a thoughtful architect for my future and that of my family. I can break the cycle of harm, lay down new traditions, and offer my kids a healthier, happier story. It’s like I’m the author of a new family narrative, and the first chapter starts with me. That, my friends, is the transformative power of intentionally seeking out frameworks and vocabulary that will empower you to understand and own your story.

Owning My Story: The Final Word

Owning your story is one of the bravest things you can do. It’s about standing tall and saying, “Here I am, in all my messy glory, and guess what? I’m worthy of love and understanding.”

Owning your story means fully embracing every part of your life—the highs and the lows. It’s not just about celebrating the good times; it’s also about confronting the challenges, the mistakes, and the heartaches. Your life is like a quilt made of many patches, some bright and beautiful, others worn or frayed. Each patch, whether it’s a moment of joy or a heart-breaking memory, adds to who you are.

When you own your story, you seize control of your narrative. You’re not letting anyone else put you in a box or define you. You become the author of your life, choosing your path and writing each chapter with intention and courage. That’s not just empowering; it’s transformative.

This journey of mine is about understanding human behavior, emotions, and relationships in a deeper way. I’m diving into the “why” behind it all, whether it’s through a descriptive or prescriptive lens, or understanding the difference between objective facts and subjective feelings. It’s about recognizing my own beliefs and values, and identifying those lagging skills that need a little extra love and attention. I’m on a relentless quest to learn new words and adopt new frameworks. Why? Because they give me the tools to understand my story more clearly and to intentionally shape my life and my future. And that, my friends, is a game-changer.

As Brené Brown says in Rising Strong, “The only decision we get to make is what role we’ll play in our own lives: Do we want to write the story or do we want to hand that power over to someone else?” So, what’s it going to be? Are you ready to take the pen and start writing your own story?

Kraft, H. (2020). Deep kindness: a revolutionary guide for the way we think, talk, and act in kindness. Tiller Press.
Brown, B. (2015). Rising strong (First Edition). Spiegel & Grau.
Brown, C. B. (2012). Daring greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead (1st ed). Gotham Books.
Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead: brave work, tough conversations, whole hearts. Random House.
Nicholas Cardot

The transformation begins with you. Develop the leader inside you and become the driving influence your community is looking for.

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