I am drawn to narrative therapy. It is a way of looking at our lives through storytelling and aligning with our core values. Narrative therapists use this process as a way of being with the client and understanding his or her story. I have always been very curious about where people have been in life and how they got to here.
Externalization is one of the most powerful tools narrative therapists use. I have been fascinated by how helpful this process has been in my own life and with my children. It is a way of seeing a problem or belief as just that – a problem or a belief. It challenges us to see that thing as only part of our identity and something that might be changed. It is not our whole story.
For example, when a person feels depressed, they often say, “I am depressed”. It is the “I Am” that is so key in that statement. We don’t say “I am cancer”. We say, “I have cancer.” Our language is so important to our sense of well-being and, ultimately, our sense of self. When we say, “I am”, we can over-identify with that part of our story. Depression, anxiety, feelings of loss may be the dominating theme at that time, but it is still one part of our whole life story.
Imagine feelings as waves in the ocean. Rather than settle in, they wash over us. They come and go. Sometimes, they flow gently; other times, they rush hard. By describing feelings as something external, it helps us stay centered, strong, in control – we are always more than just our feelings. We can choose to invite the feelings in, sit with them, have tea; ask them why they have come and why they seem to want to stay. In this way, we can equalize our relationship to these feelings. We give them a voice. If we deny them, resist them, ignore them; they will come rushing in, often overwhelming us and leaving us feeling helpless. They require much more attention then.
The challenge is to be able to sit with the feelings without being afraid of them or trying to rescue ourselves from them. Trungpa Rinpoche cautions against what he calls idiot compassion which is the tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering. We need to remember that the same goes for our self. When there is suffering, that situation or feeling seems to take over our life. Everything else may seem intangible or out of control. Thomas Moore describes it as the dark night of the soul. He says that when you experience a dark night, you can sit with it and consider who you are and who you want to be.
Hope aligns with a dark night of the soul. You decide who you are and who you want to be. You write your own story. I feel hopeful that regardless of circumstances, we can find meaning in just about anything that happens in life. We can use that to help us grow and change. The meaning often comes by focusing on loving those around us and allowing them to love us right back. It does not mean the situation is any less painful when we are going through it. It does mean that we can use what we have learned through that struggle. We can be fortified by it to stand strong; born again into the life we are destined to live.
Although I understand that I cannot make
someone feel hopeful, my goal (my vocation)
is to reach out my hand.