We humans tend to build our identities around particular stories and narratives that are constructed and changed over time. How we define these stories is what’s at the centre of how we feel. If our story is viewed from a purely negative perspective, then it makes sense that our quality of life will be diminished.
For example, a woman I recently worked with described her story as being about a weak and broken person. It’s not unusual for her to feel this way as she had endured many years living with terrible domestic violence. The flip side to her story, and the one I wanted her to see, was that despite the horrible situation she had found herself in, she had developed some amazing resilience that she used to keep herself and children safe. She had stared adversity in the face, and kept going.
I helped her tease this story out a bit further, and she’s on her way to redefining herself. Rather than a ‘broken corpse’, she’s now talking about herself as a prisoner – a prisoner wrongly jailed, who against the odds, fought back this monumental injustice to eventual freedom – kind of a Shawshank Redemption. We’re in the process of creating a bit of a scrap book of her coping skills as a testament to her resilience.
Not long after I saw another woman whose story was similar in many ways – I had an idea!! After our session, I contacted the first woman and asked if she’d mind sharing her story with my new client. She was thrilled at the suggestion, and wrote her a letter. My new client felt that hearing someone else’s story about how they coped with the hard times, not only helped her resilience, but also made her feel more connected. I asked her to respond to the letter, and she later sent her a message describing how the original letter helped her. Once again, this provided a connection, and made the first letter writer feel valued.
Connectedness is something that is at the core of resilience. In her brilliant book, Resilience, Anne Deveson speaks of connectedness as being at the core of happiness. If we feel connected, and believe that our presence in some way can positively influence the life of others, then we stand a much greater chance of happiness.
The therapeutic benefits of producing a collective document are emerging. Theres’ a great paper by Frederick Mayer that argues –
that shared narratives, public stories, are the fundamental human device for enabling communities to act collectively. Stories have great power in the mind, both cognitive and affective.
The Dulwich Centre in Adelaide are poineers in theory of collective documents, and believe –
Collective narrative documents richly describe the special skills and knowledge of how individuals, groups and communities are sustained through difficult times. Once created, these documents can then be shared between groups in ways that enable those who have endured hardship to experience making a real contribution to others.
Now I can simultaneously hear Ayn Rand turning in her grave, and her wingnut sycophants convulsing uncontrollably. The thought of anything collective is heresy to these misanthropes, but fortunately I couldn’t give a flying fuck with they thought!!
So now to my cunning plan. I’ve known for sometime the power of collective wisdom, so I’ve decided to facilitate the creation of a collective document on behalf of those doing it tough in my community.
Since my writing is so clunky, what I’m going to be doing to be wandering around the place with a taperecorder speaking to people about their lives. I’m going to chose people who are either in a very adverse situation, or have recently been in one. I’ll be asking for their story, but I’m also particularly interested in hearing about how they manage to cope through the worst of times – this is the double sided story that people often don’t see in themselves. I’m then going to compile these stories into some type of document, and distrubute it to the people who helped create it, but also to others around the country who may befefit from it.
The idea is to then facilitate some sort of response from those who may have benefited from the document, and once again distribute this to the original participants. Does it sound a bit optomistic?? Of course it does, but I’ll give it a shot.
I’m going to introduce the concept on a recording shortly, with a bit more information. I’ll then go about interviewing people, and put their recordings up for you to listen to as well.