Stories have a way of uniting us, uplifting us, and even breathing life into us.  This is especially true as we take time today in observance of MLK Jr. Day, remembering that his dream for our nation has echoed throughout the stories told by those who either knew him personally, heard him speak, marched with him, were inspired by the civil rights movement, or perhaps, felt the vibratory call to move humanity toward the initiative of peace and justice for ALL.

So, it’s only right, that as we near the end of the first month of the new year and decade, we earnestly evaluate stories held, believed, and even cherished. While stories throughout history have had incredible power and unifying force, there are stories that have reflected fear, division, and self-inflicted pain. Furthermore, stories intended to harm marginalized groups also do harm to those perpetuating it as they, too, are subject to its limitations.

At the start of the new year or any transitional period, when clients are eager to embark on new experiences or aspire toward new goals, I engage them in an activity called: “Who Tells Your Story?” Synchronistically, after recently attending the Hamilton play in San Francisco for the first time (yes folks, I do realize that I’m super late on that one, so please cut me some slack), and hearing the song with a similar title, I’d have to say it’s one of my favorite songs now. It speaks to the meaning of life exuded in story-telling and its power when authentically embodied.

In conjunction with the above-mentioned activity, I ask clients to evaluate the stories they hold when experiencing the stress of wanting/needing support, acceptance, affection, warmth, and to be taken seriously. Especially, when they’re unsure of its accessibility from others.

I also have my clients assess stories they inhabit when their relationships require vulnerable self-disclosure, conflict management, repair from emotional injury, or boundary setting. During this process, it’s common for clients to noticestories held in the mind-body when fearing the loss of autonomy, identity, exclusion, and abandonment.

Hence, stories are intended to: 1) provide a narrative for self that it believes it needs for survival 2) Motivates self toward or away an object of desire/fear, and 3) Create reflection. In this context, I define reflection as a contrived story to make sense of one’s circumstances or emotional responses (e.g. anxiety, a felt sense of loneliness, or being misunderstood). For example, when one holds the narrative: “If I let people in, then it’s only a matter of time until they dislike and leave me,” the story is likely providing one with a defense against anticipated loss. The motivation for the embodied story is fear and the reflection from the story (namely, how the narrator of the story is trying to make sense and cope with the fear) is an attempt to bypass risk of loss by avoiding self-disclosure.

When that individual is prompted to look deeper into another story — likely seeking to be unleashed from the limitations of the former story held — they discover a vulnerable story of validity and truth. The individual might internally register: “I yearn so much to feel a part of a community and I really want to be close to others, even it makes me uncomfortable at first.”  This newly unleashed story forms a developmental path with far more opportunities for building community and connecting with others. Therefore, uncovering the earnest story held gives an individual more capacity to take risks.

In short, before the day or current week ends, I encourage you to explore your own stories and evaluate what these stories are providing you with, what they’re motivating you toward or away from, and the reflections that they leave you with. And when you finally ask yourself, “Who Tells Your Story?,” notice if an inner critic — the part of self trying to avoid pain and suffering — arises. Conversely, notice if the criticized- the part of self that reacts to pain and suffering surfaces. Lastly, notice if the compassionate observer ever emerges— the part of self that recognizes the impact of carried pain and suffering.

As a Therapist and Entrepreneur, one of the stories and myths held in our society I like to  challenge is: “There’s not enough to go around” and to assess in my own life, where scarcity likely shows up. This brings me to sharing the following resource with you, in hopes that it will meet you wherever you are and with the belief that there are many individuals waiting to be supported by mental health professionals in different ways.  A great colleague (Jessika Fruchter, LMFT) that I know in the community is providing support through a Therapeutic Writing Group geared toward helping self-identified women explore, mindfully evaluate, and voice their own stories. If interested to learn more, please email jessikafruchtermft@gmail.com.

Carmelle Ellison, LCSW

I help high-achieving adults, especially in the BIPOC community live authentically wholesome lives via telehealth therapy throughout California.

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