Have you ever wished you could completely rewrite your story? Did you know it’s possible? And you don’t have to make such drastic changes or time travel. Narrative therapy will teach you how.
Since psychotherapy, there are many ways to report a problem, disorder or crisis situation; one of them is to see our life as a set of stories that we tell ourselves daily and which thus predispose our mental state (our emotions, our thoughts, our reactions to different circumstances). It’s not you, it’s the stories you tell.
Stories that don’t give us happiness
In our minds, the same thing happens every day as in a movie. We tell many stories. They can be short and simple or long and complex, they can be dramatic, comedic, action or horror. With the particularity that we did not identify them as stories or movies, we believe them to be real.
Take the success story as an example. They started telling you the story of success in school, when they told you that you had to work hard to get good grades, because if you don’t get good grades, you can’t go to college, or you don’t get a good job and you won’t make enough money. The happy outcome of the success story is then: a stable job, a high position in a big company and earning a lot of money. If you don’t reach this goal, it’s always because you haven’t worked hard enough.
Many people tell this story and it has helped them achieve their goals. However, I find some who feel lost, tired and inadequate. Although they follow the rules of the success story, they do not feel very successful.
I took this example because it is precisely the success story that is being rewritten, and for 10 years our vision of success has changed a lot. If before success was to earn money and be able to buy prestigious symbols (private vehicles, fashion, international travel, latest technologies…) today success becomes having free time, a stable relationship, a group of very good and healthy friends.
Your problems change when you change your stories
How would your current “problems” change if you started telling another success story? The same goes for relationships and marriages.
For example, we always associate divorce directly with failure, because the happy ending that “death do us part” could not be achieved. So, who has not reached this point in their marriage, has failed in their love affair.
What if we were told another story of divorce and the end of a relationship? Instead of saying, “Despite our best efforts and attempts, we have not been able to stick together and overcome our differences.” We now have the courage to be honest and admit that we need a change in our lives.” So divorce ceases to be a story of war that ends in a world in ashes that everyone must start from scratch, but becomes a new starting point for both parties.
What is success and what is failure for you? What are your successes and failures? Maybe your only goal is to reach a happy ending to a story that, at this point in your life, doesn’t make much sense anymore.
How does it work in therapy?
Most people who go to therapy have a very special story. Often these are very painful stories, and the intention of narrative therapy is not to deny suffering. The suffering in the moment is real, the stories that produce it don’t have to be.
Let’s say a person goes to therapy because they don’t quite know what to do with their life, they have always tried to follow the “instructions”, but they feel that they are not doing well at all, they are doing a lot for the others, but he ends up losing, making another mistake and feeling stuck. As a result she sleeps badly, she feels depressed, she likes things less and less and falls into a spiral of nonsense. During therapeutic dialogues, he shares his “stories”:
- “I was a very naughty child, I was always a nuisance to my parents, because I interrupted their important work with my naughtiness.”
- “I was never a very good student.”
- “I don’t think I’m very good at saying things.”
- “I am very sensitive, I get angry quickly”…
These are the stories important to that person, and they make your whole life try to fight them. Maybe she is afraid of being a nuisance and that is why she always waits for others to tell her what they want and what they prefer, so as not to bother them with their own insignificant needs, or she doesn’t like to call others on the phone because she doesn’t want to disturb. He therefore focuses a lot of energy on controlling his behavior with others, because he is afraid of doing something inappropriate. In the end, he does a lot to cover up his supposed “disadvantages” and very little to apply his strengths and simply tell this “disadvantage” story.
The challenge is knowing the stories of possibilities
By knowing a person’s dominant background and stories, we can now know and build other stories together. It’s not about inventing a world of fantasies, but about changing the focusabout the deficit, and shift it to resources and other realities.
The consultant in my example saw that he was a nuisance from an early age because that was the story his parents told him. But here’s another (truer) story: What would change if it were said that the consultant’s parents were simply very busy people with little sensitivity to a child’s needs and in their stress and indisposition told him that he was the problem (eye: children always think they are the problem)?
And the new story would be, “I wasn’t the problem, I was a kid with needs, and my parents didn’t organize their priorities well enough to take care of me. I’m not a nuisance, I am a person with needs.”
As you can see, completely changes the script. With this story, the consultant may suddenly be curious about your needs, you may say:
- “I have the right to demand things of myself.”
- “I want to know what I want to do.”
- “I can ask, doubt, oppose what others tell me.”
Thus, the person takes on a new role in his situation, she realizes that she has influence over her problems and can change the narrative of herself.
Everything can be questioned
There are many things in our minds that we believe to be true: about ourselves, about others, about the world, about the future, etc. The only truth is that everything can be questioned. You can tell other completely different stories about the same life. Stories of possibility, which highlight our achievements, personal values, rights and priorities.
We all have these alternate histories; finding them on your own isn’t that easy, but once they’re discovered, it’s hard to ignore them. Narrative therapy is based on the premise that stories shape and transform us.. When the story changes, the problem changes, and we can choose which stories we want to believe. Therapy doesn’t have to be a long process, and changing the narrative of some stories may be enough for many people.