“Let me tell you a story”… think for a moment, how does this statement make you feel? For many it conjures up curiosity, anticipation, even intrigue. As humans, stories provide an important source of meaning for us. While this may appear innocuous at times we may fail to recognize how much of an impact our stories have on the lives we live. Unfortunately, many people become trapped inside what narrative therapy calls “problem-saturated stories” which sometimes leads to emotional disorders and distress. The information provided here offers some ideas from narrative therapy. Hopefully they will challenge you to edit or rewrite your personal story.

Problem-Saturated Stories

Life is often hard, there is no way around this reality, yet it is also filled with wonderful, beautiful moments. If our focus remains on our problems we may disregard or overlook all those wonderful moments. Negative thinking becomes a habit when we continually repeat our problem-laced stories to ourselves and / or others.

An example of a problem-saturated story may be, “I am the black sheep of the family.”  This individual struggles with acceptance in his or her family unit. Possible causes of this sense of “otherness” are poor academics, different interests, drug use, etc. When a statement such as this is continually repeated to oneself and others, we begin to view all information through “black sheep lenses.” So what happens when a “black sheep” does something successful? Maybe the success is minimized with statements to one’s self or from others such as “I must have gotten lucky” or “this won’t last long.” Other times one won’t even allow themselves to acknowledge his or her success because it doesn’t fit within the story line created. The result is a problem-saturated story where no room exists for success! We need to make room to not only create successful outcomes but to embrace them as well.

Externalizing Problems

“The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.” For some of us this may be a pretty radical statement. I encourage you to sit with the thought for a moment. You are not your problems! Problems bully us, tempt us, yell at us, and sometimes whisper gently in our ear.

When we come to this understanding, we can begin to challenge or talk back to problems. For example, when self-doubt says “You are a loser, you always make mistakes.” One may challenge that story line with a more congruent, truthful statement, such as, “I am human, I make mistakes like everyone else, yet I am brave enough to keep trying.” Give it some practice. Whether it be self doubt, fear, or any problem trying to knock you down, talk back, use your voice to write your own empowering story.

Sparkling Moments

Sparkling moments are my favorite part of narrative therapy. They are where new, hopeful stories are given life. Simply put, sparkling moments are the times when we don’t cooperate with problems, when we push back and recognize we have it in us to redefine who we are apart from our problems. Using our example of self doubt, a sparkling moment happens when attending a job interview and self doubt attempts to run the show, but is blocked by personal truth, acknowledgement of strengths and times of success.

One way I enjoy challenging problem-saturated beliefs is through visualization. Continuing with the job interview scenario, take a moment and visualize yourself being successful. Imagine every detail, from the clothes on your body to the expression on your face. Visualize others responding kindly and positively to your presence and conversation. This activity is a powerful tool because we often do not allow ourselves to see what a positive outcome can look like or feel like. We tend to marinate in the “what if neighborhood” visualizing disaster instead of triumph.

We learn so much in our sparkling moments, if we pay attention to them. I implore you to acknowledge your success and the times when you have overcome difficulties. The story you tell yourself will define who you are and what you present to the world, don’t underestimate this power. Stories contain meaning. Positive, balanced stories lead to more balanced, enjoyable lives!

If you would like to learn more about narrative therapy the following books come highly recommended.

For more information about the author, Bridget Gray, email her at bgray@foundationsfamily.com or visit her blog site Gray Matters

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