The Power of Stories

Telling stories is the best way to teach, persuade, and even understand ourselves.

Duchess of York’s Redemption Story Is Good Theatre

Princess Sarah does self-help without doing personal responsibility

Start with a princess story.
Cut to the Eve-cast-from-Eden story.
Tack on a Horatio Alger story. 

This is how ex-Princess Fergie sees herself in the new reality series, Finding Sarah. But Producer Oprah Winfrey is too smart to settle for a victim story. So Dr. Phil and Suze Orman are lined up to help Sarah face unpleasant truths and break out of patterns. Sarah defends her patterns with aristocratic hauteur.

The Duchess keeps saying "why do I sabotage myself?" But she doesn't seem to believe she's sabotaging herself, since she defends her choices so vigorously. I think she sees herself as a victim of circumstances, and learned to say the words "self-sabotage" to please a therapist. It's a common human dilemma - we want redemption but we do not like to admit we did anything wrong. Watching this predicament on the screen makes it easier to come to grips with in person. 

Sarah is arrogant and self-deprecating at the same time. She keeps saying how badly she needs help, but she's hostile to the help she gets. I loved watching because the minute I got fed up with her emotional dishonesty, Dr. Phil or Suze Orman would call attention to it. Here are some examples:

1. The Duchess objects to everyone's focus on her recent bribe-taking indiscretion. That would be understandable if it weren't for her choice to sell herself as a writer of heartfelt ethics books. She seeks attention as a do-gooder, so she can't expect to brush an ethical whopper under the rug and sell people on the charity-lady facade. Either she faces up to her tarnished image and polishes it, or exits the public spotlight. Perhaps she does expect to pull off a grand manipulation because her best friend, the late Princess Diana, did just that. Diana solicited press coverage and then turned around and blamed the media scrutiny for her emotional turmoil.

2. Sarah finally agrees to confront her misdeed, but she's only sorry for getting caught. I am stunned when Sarah tells Dr. Phil "I wouldn't have done it if I knew it would be perceived as a bribe." Dr. Phil doesn't let her get away with that. I adore Dr. Phil. I know the "cool" people hate him, but I think they hate him because he doesn't get snookered by victim stories. He asks Sarah if her moral compass went off when she accepted the bribe. She answers with great solemnity, "My moral compass is so strong that I couldn't have done it if I had known it was a bribe." That's like saying I couldn't have committed bank robbery if I'd known that holding a gun to a teller and taking the money was bank robbery.

3. Sarah is now effectively bankrupt, and instead of acknowledging her spending problems, she chalks it up to devotion to her staff. The poor little rich girl finally lost my sympathy when she reminisced about the "stress" of living in Buckingham Palace. Financial advisor Suze Orman addresses Sarah's persistent ducking of responsibility with impressive grace and clarity.

Dr. Phil concludes Episode 2 with the suggestion that Sarah is addicted to approval. She jumps for joy in response because having a label for her problem feels good. I understand that labeling emotions is helpful and can even be said to make us human. But Sarah uses so much self-help jargon that it seems to substitute for insight. Every sentence of hers is sprinkled with the words: my journey, stress, empowerment, vulnerability, stress, issues, my brand, stress, self-worth, stress. She seems to be mouthing the lingo of therapy.

Will Sarah develop insight into her approval-seeking habit? Will she stop seeking acceptance through choices that harm her well-being? Tune in next week.

And read my book  Beyond Cynical: Transcend Your Mammalian Negativity for a simple plan to build the personal-agency circuits in your brain so you'll never wind up saying "how did I end up here?"

The Power of Stories