WRITTEN BY ANDREA
Storytelling is ancient and links us to the roots of our humanity. It is something that all cultures, all people, share. It is comforting to know that we are not alone, that all people tell stories passed down from generation to generation about our beginnings, our hardships, and our victories. Storytelling is also an intimate mental exercise that can predict our individual futures. It is a powerful tool that motivates us to do both good and terrible things.
In my work with people who have experienced homelessness, the stories people tell themselves is often not of resilience and survival, but of failure, fear, abuse, and hopelessness. Their actions often reflect these judgements about themselves, and the story our culture tells about why people become homeless reinforces these negative ideas. It only makes sense for people who feel bad about themselves to make poor decisions and do bad things. If your story is that you have been abused and have only ever had bad experiences in your relationships with others, the choices on how you behave or how you form bonds with others becomes limited really fast. Any traumatic experience can do the same thing, narrowing our vision of our future and our choices so that we are stuck in a box of our own creation, with no hope of ever escaping.
Helping people re-write these stories about themselves and about their past, present, and future is like giving them a key to unlock the box. It is like a breath of fresh air. What if someone who has had bad experiences with others suddenly can tell a story of how they found the good in these situations and were able to learn and grow from them, that they have the capability to be loved? It is a life-changing thing.
Therapeutic storytelling (or narrative therapy) is a form of storytelling that uses creative metaphors to tell individualized stories that help to address challenging experiences in a child's (or adult's) life, offering possible resolutions and the opportunity for insight and reflection. In my life, I used digital storytelling through the Resilience Project to rewrite the experience I went through becoming a single mom. Instead of seeing my family as missing something because of the lack of a daily father presence, I realized that I had grown to be able to fill some of that gap and had become a strong, capable parent as a result.
I often use writing and storytelling as a way of combating my insecurities and doubts about my capabilities, my anxiety and depression, which has totally changed my world view and opened up sunlight where there was none to be had. There are so many things I have been able to accomplish in my life over the past few years because I rewrote my story and made space for good things to happen instead of feeling hopeless.
What is the story you tell yourself about things that have happened in your life and what is to come? Re-writing the story is possibly the key to unlocking your box.