Knowing our stories…

“Once upon a time, a small bird flew into a tree and saw a crown hanging from a branch. At the bottom of that tree was a boy with a drum who asked the bird…” How would you finish this story?

This is a game that I often play with families in my therapy sessions with them. Each person gets to pick out a small item from a red velvet bag and come up with a piece of the story. The imagination continues round and round, chapter after chapter, until we come to a final end of the story.

The activity is fun and insightful. It provides a metaphor for the stories families have around their own traumatic losses. Even when bad things happened, that were outside of our control, we can narrate our present reality and write new chapters and have happier endings.

Recently, I taught a workshop on Adoption and Permanency skills to social workers and therapists. In this workshop we discussed how to tell the adoption story even when it is sometimes very shocking or socially taboo. One of the hallmarks of telling this story is that parents “hold” the story but they don’t “own” it. This is the child’s story. A parents goal is to tell all there is to be told (and sometimes there isn’t a lot known) by the time the child leaves the home and the child has to understand what is being told.

The story has to be told over and over again; essentially recycled over time, to account for the changing development. A child who is 5 has very different level of understanding than the child who is 12 or 16 or 20, etc. Each new telling unfolds greater revelation and insight. Each developmental period allows for more social awareness and shifting of identity. This may result in more grieving too. A child who is 5 may not show a lot of sadness over their story. Developmentally, this would be appropriate. A child is who 16 may have a lot of sadness or anger. This would be developmentally appropriate for him or her.

Every one has a story. It may have fun parts and yucky parts. It may be full of loss or full of adventure. The important thing to keep in mind is that our story is out story. We get to own it and when we do, we get to participate in its on-going authorship.

Glancing at your problems

Sometimes the problems we experience in our family relationships can feel so large that we simple stare transfixed at them. It can overwhelm us and cause us to give up hope. We may resign ourselves to the idea that we cannot over come them and this is the way our family will always be…

The unfortunately result of this immobilization is that we often believe the lie that other people (or ourselves) are the problem. I am fond of quoting a line from Narrative Therapy that goes: “The person is not the problem. The problem is the problem." 

It is only when we partner together, against the problem, externalizing it from our person that we are able to overcome that problem. Blaming one another as bad, damaged, or toxic only intensifies shame and keeps us stuck. I am not saying that people don’t make bad choices. We all say things and do things we wish we hadn’t done that can have destructive consequences on our families. The point here is that if we are to have the dream family we deserve to have, we have to work together against the problem. 

Instead of staring at the problem, try "gazing” at your loved one and only “glancing” at the problem. It is still there but it is not where your attention needs to be glued to. Reconnect with your family, work together against the problem and start making changes, however small that will restore relationships and rebuild connections.