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What’s Your Narrative?

Matthew Cuddeback, LCSW

Often times we experience something, think something, or identify with something and then take it and incorporate it into our story. The most obvious examples of this are when we were young and we heard a certain kind of music and suddenly decided that was a defining aspect of our character, we listened to Nirvana for the first time and went and cut holes in our jeans, stopped washing our hair, and got super edgy. Or when you go to university and take a poetry class and start wearing all black and wax philosophical about Emily Dickenson. In therapy we call this a person’s narrative, and while it can be entertaining to look back and laugh at the narrative you created for yourself when you were younger, it becomes even more meaningful and potentially maladaptive as we move through life. It is important at any age to examine and monitor your narrative.

Narratives are ultimately the way we see ourselves and tell our stories to ourselves, this can be both adaptive and maladaptive so it’s important to check on it from time to time. For example, someone who experienced abuse as a child can understandably feel powerless and small. However, that person can also look at themselves and identify not as a victim but a survivor and they can hopefully incorporate this feeling and that becomes a strength. This becomes a part of their narrative, they see that something traumatic happened to them but they survived and can use this as a step in the healing process. Another example of this is someone who’s partner recently broke up with them, they may blame themselves and see trends in past breakups and start to think anyone they meet is just going to dump them so why even try. They might think their ex probably dumped them for good reason, they’re always going to be alone, etc. This person has started to incorporate this into their narrative and it has become unhealthy and dragged them down.

Often times we do this without much intention and leave it unexamined, when this happens I like to suggest an exercise. If your life was a movie, how would you want it to play out? How would you see yourself? What genre is it? Maybe instead of getting dumped and deciding your not going try anymore because you’re convinced you’re not worth it, it’s actually a pivotal moment in the movie in which you realize you don’t need your ex, that you should focus on yourself and your needs. Maybe that was the first act that led you to something better. It is important to examine this and if you are not happy with the way it plays in your mind you can change it. This is where the hard work comes in, not only do you need to look at this story and adjust your perspective, you also need to put in the work moving forward to reinforce this change. This can be helpful to motivate you to make a change. It can help you see the narrative and then change it, maybe it would be good to decide its time to focus on yourself more and not be as dependent on others for validation or decide to help others which may help you feel even more power and strength, to take what you experienced and turn it into something that can help others.

Be careful about what you let your narrative become, be sure to examine it from to time and if you don’t like what you see, you can change how you see it and take action to ensure it continues how would want. The way we see ourselves is hugely important and it is worth spending the time and energy identifying how you see yourself and what would help you to see yourself more positively. So, what is your narrative? Is it a story you like or is it time to change it?

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