Chaplain's thought for the week

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Chaplain's thought for the week

Revd Tom writes about the importance of the stories we tell ourselves

What’s your story?

The stories we tell about ourselves are important and can make a huge impact on both our behaviour and how we feel about ourselves. I am currently taking a Certificate in Counselling course which is very valuable for my pastoral work in school. In the last session, we began to explore ‘Narrative Therapy’, an approach to counselling which works to examine the stories we tell about our lives, our successes, our failures, our families etc.

This way of working makes a lot of sense to me: as humans, I think we are clearly ‘interpreting beings’. We have many experiences and we try to understand them in patterns of meaning. Our identities are formed by our life narratives. The interpretations of our narratives can influence thinking, feeling and behaviour. Some stories we tell about ourselves may have positive effects. For example, a successful actor will have a narrative about themselves that they are able to portray different characters, overcome stage fright, learn lines etc., and so when it comes to an audition they may approach it with confidence. On the other hand, it is easy to see how the stories we tell might have less positive effects.

According to this approach, we often settle for quite ‘thin’ narratives – about ourselves and other people. Such descriptions do not allow for the subtleties and contradictions of life. For example, we might tell ourselves any number of things which become part of our story: “I’m a bit stupid”; “I’m not very good at Maths”; “I’m not a creative sort of person”; “I’ll never be able to learn to read music”. The latter is one I told myself for years, until I started singing in Choral Society a few years ago and decided to learn a classical instrument – I’m now making quite good progress!

All too often, these negative narratives come from our upbringing or schooling. Perhaps we were told something unfortunate about ourselves which we have taken on. The task then is to ‘thicken’ the narrative so that we have a richer description. We can challenge the dominant story which has been running us in a negative way.

This might also lead us to take care: we play a big part in helping to create the narratives which young people will develop. Are we helping them to create positive narratives about themselves? Indeed, might we be guilty at times of settling for a simple, ‘thin’ description, one which doesn’t do justice to the person we find difficult?

One of the things I particularly like about this approach is that the Christian narrative encourages us to reframe our stories in the light of God’s Kingdom, in which all humans are seen as valuable, worthwhile, forgiveable and loveable creatures in the eyes of God.