Along with learning how to do something different, seeing the world in new and different ways, we have to work on helping our clients UNHOOK the Narratives which have colored their lives in a kaleidoscope of fear and sorrow. A great deal of inner child work, for example, is taking a look at the stories or world viewpoints we learned as a child, learning to be curious about them and, with help, unhook the narrative as it no longer serves a healthy purpose.
Let’s talk about this. We all have stories that we tell ourself about the way we are and about those around us. These stories may have developed at an early age and we get stuck in the topic sentence paragraph we have crafted.
Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a lovely woman whom I will call Patricia. She was beset with chronic pain, depression and at times was immobilized. The death of her mother, her father’s narcissism and remarriage, and her own insecurities propelled her into a cycle of disapproval, depression, and failure to thrive.
As a young child, her mother made her into her confidant, sharing more than any child needed to know. As a result, she thought she was not good enough and her father’s inability to give her the support she needed, plus her mother’s tragic death spiraled her into a life of chronic pain.
Working with her to future her young self using creative play stuffed animals, she picked a kitty cat to take care of her 12-year-old self, a lion to roar in anger for her 20 -year-old self, and a leopard for her 50-year-old self. Integrating these three and learning she was good enough, strong enough, and wise enough helped her unhook the narrative. While she never has to forgive her father for his abandonment, she now can give compassion to him, for he was miserable in his own grief and had no idea what to do or say. Unhooking the narrative allowed her to have compassion for a grizzly old man. Yet how does one go about unhooking the narrative? Here are 5 steps you might try:
- Understand that the story you are telling comes from a limited worldview. As children, we do our best to make sense of our world. We see things through others/ knees and have limited information. As an adult, you have the opportunity to rewrite the view and have a much broader understanding of the story. In working with Patricia, she was able to see that her world as a child was limited to taking care of a depressed mother and an absentee father. She took on to all their pain, thinking she was responsible. As an adult, she learned the foibles of her parents and nurtured her inner child, young adult and woman she is.
- Future the younger part that still experiences the emotional pain. Your inner child can still feel things intensely and you want to push those feelings away, yet as an adult, you have the opportunity to comfort those parts in the way you would a scared or sad child. The use of stuffed animals (obviously the client picks their own) is a way of recognizing and nurturing the inner child. It’s an acknowledgement that it’s ok to have feelings
- Hold your story lightly. Take a look at your story and understand they are just mental constructs, things we tell ourselves. Be curious about your story. Notice things about your story.
- Observe Your story from a distance. Ask yourselves what happens to your body when you believe these thoughts to be true? Ask how this story affects your thinking and behavior. In the above case, Patricia would take to her bed to hide as an abandoned child when the feelings got too intense. Having the safety of unpacking the story and looking at it from an entirely different vantage point changed the scenario.
- Open yourself to the possibility of a new story that more accurately reflects your current competencies and your reality. What is actually happening at the moment? What are you capable of doing? Can you use the same compassion you have adopted for yourself for others? Can you let the anger, which helped you, though trapped you for so long, scream loud enough and long enough to transform into the reality that you are good enough, strong enough, smart enough and that you have the capacity to celebrate your own competencies? For Patricia, she learned that she was good enough, and that she had the capacity to forgive her father, who in his own grief was incapable of giving. Releasing the anger led to transformation. Rewriting her narrative as an adult was the key to her mental and physical health.
In the end, we must help our clients learn that they do have the power to change their old narratives. They are not fired and written in stone. We do this daily with folks in treatment for alcohol, other drugs, process disorders, chronic pain, and mental health issues. We invite them to first look at their narratives and then help them unhook the narrative thru a variety of creative strategies so they can live productive lives. If you have a story you like to share, please send it to me.