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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Narratives

Monday, June 6, 2011


A few days ago I took a long walk with an old friend. Sheltered by the trees and the quiet, she spoke of how very much she wished she could get a deeper grasp on the subtle facts of her own life and perhaps tell a new story. She was referring to the nuances of her emotional life, such as her constant worry about her professional success, her preoccupation with trying and failing to write great poetry, her feeling that most people don't really care all that much about her and her resistance to spending money on herself.

These things interfere with her enjoyment of a day, with her feeling contentment from her many accomplishments and blessings, and with her making progress professionally. As I was listening, I wondered, as I often do when I listen, about whose story she was telling. Her own, of course, but not only.

Her sister is a competitive, very successful, somewhat famous medical practitioner. Her mother is a musician who longed for fame, but never quite excelled. And her father, though kind, always made it clear that he sacrificed many of his own needs and dreams in order to support her and her sister.

I wondered if she had given any thought to her own narrative as it relates to her early experiences in life, and the experiences of those closest to her. Had she paused lately to think more about what has shaped her deeper and more subtle (unconscious) beliefs?

We were in the shelter of a great park, but we were not walking a therapy walk together, though the conversation certainly leaned that way. But it reminded me yet again how much we really can gain from taking the time to consider our narratives. Of course, in therapy, in the shelter of these four walls, the conversation often leans that way, when it seems it will be useful. Studying narratives can shed light on the connection between our current emotional lives, the lives of those we love and may have been shaped by, and the obstacles to having more of what we might like.

People who come in to therapy often tell me that they feel a quiet (or not so quiet) discontent. They wish somehow that they felt more serene, more content in the day to day. Yes, they want to achieve, to accomplish, to excel, but they are seeking a balance between the desire for success and progress and the wish for a deeper sense of internal peace. I think it's possible. Probable even. And I think that considering our narratives, and connecting the dots between our internal lives and those of our family can help shed light on what holds us back, what it will take to move ahead, and how best to be both mindful and content, while making satisfying forward motion in life.

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