The Stories We Tell
We have a profound sense of living our best lives. The process of living our best lives is shaped by our individual and collective experiences. From these experiences, we develop narratives about who we are and the things we will do or the mistakes we shall not repeat.
Most of our stories will not be making the front pages of major news publications. Still, they are frontline stories nonetheless to their authors. The people who live the plot lines are not mistaken about their thoughts and feelings. Instead, the stories are the essence of the human spirit in moments of vulnerability and invincibility.
The stories represent your life in ways that are personal and intimate. For some of us, upon reflection, parts of the stories are representative of the watershed moments that changed our lives. For the moment, you were triumphant in academics, sports, socially, or even the joy in your parent's eyes when you graduated from high school or college.
In these stories is the warmth of our humanity.
The stories we tell have an origination point, and they likely had a protagonist and an antagonist. Our stories paint a vivid picture of our reality and interaction with the world we embrace. Albert Bandura described "reciprocal determinism" as the interaction between the individual, the environment, and the individual's behaviors. While Bandura's "reciprocal determinism" is applied to learning, it applies to how we create narratives about who we are and what our experiences mean from these interactions.
Since we cannot change these already lived experiences, the best we can do is attempt to discern meaning from them. And whether the stories need to be reframed or include new vocabulary because the words associated with the narrative do not add value to our lives. Therefore, we cannot deny that some of these stories are unfinished businesses from our past. Nevertheless, past or present, they impact our behaviors in one way or another.
In exploring the many stories, the crucial question is, "am I growing from this story I continue to tell?" It is not that the story is unworthy of being told. Sometimes the stories become overwhelmingly negative. We cannot make sense of the experience we continue to grapple with, probably more than we should. Hence the need to reauthor the stories.
Michael White and David Epson are proponents of narrative therapy. They suggest the stories we tell that are problem saturated can be retold so that it leads to positive outcomes. Three of their suggestions are externalizing the problem, unique outcomes, and alternate narratives.
Externalizing the problem is an excellent skill to develop and apply to problem-solving. In this way, the individual is separated from the problem behavior. The problem behavior is addressed, not the person as the problem. For instance, Richard is an angry person expressed as Richard's inappropriate expression of anger affects his relationship with his family. Thus an opportunity is created to address the anger meaningfully without Richard feeling singled out or blamed. This does not mean Richard is not responsible for his behaviors; it just means Richard's behavior is the problem.
Unique Outcomes are another excellent skill to develop when working to resolve behavioral issues. For example, Richard's inappropriate expressions of anger are examined for moments when he can manage his anger without hurting his family relationships. These moments are brought into focus as exceptions to the idea he cannot control his anger. These moments can become the foundation for learning to regulate his thoughts, feelings, and behaviors when he recognizes his anger is escalating.
Richard can also learn to develop alternative narratives to self-regulate his behaviors when his anger begins to escalate. The alternate descriptions can support reframing the other stories of how poorly he regulates his rage to be capable of responding appropriately to anger-provoking situations. His strengths will be emphasized in this context, juxtaposed with his anger management weaknesses. This alternate description of his behaviors serves to teach and reinforce new appropriate behaviors that are possible.
Imagine listening to the stories nonjudgmentally because the experiences that shape the stories mark the storyteller forever in ways the person may have difficulty accepting as a human. It is more than just saying the experiences you had were harrowing; thankfully, you are here.
Help to write an unbelievable line in someone else's story. The person will remember the moment and thank you for your kindness. The stories we create can be inspirational or aspirational. Either way, the tone of the stories, the antagonists, and the protagonist assist with developing our stories. Many of our early experiences shape our worldview for better or worst.
But, on the other hand, these stories can be incredibly fulfilling, and the feelings are perpetuated and live on in the annals of your most remarkable experiences. So you can insert your triumphant moment here, relive it, and tell how it shapes your life story.
Stay Naturally Curious
Corey, M. S. & Corey, G. (2011). Becoming a helper (6th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Sharf, S. R. (2004). Theories of psychotherapy and Counseling: Concept and cases (3rd ed.).Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.