A client recently asked me if I thought that any Story can get UnStuck.
My quick answer was an emphatic, YES! I definitely believe that any story can get Unstuck.
Now with that said, there are 3 important points that we must take into consideration.
Point #1 – Gradual versus Instant Change:
Again, as I said to my client, I truly believe that any story can be changed, re-framed, re-interpreted, or re-authored. However, the amount of time and energy that it takes to reclaim your life from a particular story will most certainly vary from person to person and story to story. I’ve seen some problem stories dissolve almost instantaneously, simply with the introduction of a previously unconsidered point of view or a novel interpretation of circumstances that allowed individuals to story themselves, or others, in a completely new light. On the other hand, I’ve also worked with stories that took a long time to tease apart; stories that required a very methodical process, which unfolded step by step, piece by piece, like a sculptor meticulously chiseling away at a imposing, featureless piece of stone, which only after much diligent persistence yielded a true masterpiece.
Here’s are two real life examples from my own experience:
For years, I was under the belief that a certain food I was eating was “THE HEALTH FOOD”. I ate it often, talked about how nutritious it was, and even felt better about of myself because I ate it. Then, fast forward several years later, I’m in the throes of daily, severe digestive pain, chronic constipation and fatigue, and debilitating brain fog that was so intense I literally lost my ability to read for awhile. Eventually medical testing revealed that I was having an autoimmune response to this food. The very “health” food that was supposed to make me live longer and give me superpowers was actually killing me. But in light of this clear medical diagnosis, my story about the healthiness of this food and my identification with it changed immediately and completely, with any desire to eat it entirely gone. (Initially, an instantaneous transformation story about a food may seem inconsequential, but if you’ve ever told someone who’s Vegan to eat meat or someone who’s Paleo to reconsider eating gluten, you probably know that food preferences are not trivial choices, but rather identities, values, and lifestyle decisions that are often fiercely protected.)
Now contrast the previous example—a story that was transformed relatively quickly—with my relationship to a story about how my body should look differently. This story first made its appearance in my life at the onset of puberty. Under its influence, I spent the majority of my 20’s over-exercising, under-eating, obsessively concerned about how my body looked, and subjecting myself to significant amounts of self-loathing. One of my first attempts to break free of this story’s influence was the purchasing of a self-help book that dealt with the issue of body image and eating disorders. It was helpful…very helpful, but it certainly didn’t change my problematic story over night.
The new ideas I received from that book put a dent in the story, and opened my mind to other ways of relating to myself and to my body that over the course of several years started to gain momentum. Through continual reframing, the reading of many more books, therapy sessions, and a meditation practice aimed at cultivated loving kindness towards myself, I became that sculptor, steadily chipping away at the monolith of my story about body image. Each step of the process was important and necessary, but certainly didn’t constitute a quick or easy fix; especially when you consider that I was being bombarded on a daily basis by cultural messages that suggest that women’s bodies should look a certain way. My process with this story has taken years, and even though it still visits me occasionally, I am now able to consistently re-align myself with the stories and values that keep me relating to my body in loving, healthy, and accepting ways.
Point #2 – UnStuck versus Gone for Good:
There is also an important difference between UnStucking a problem story and getting rid of it forever!
I define a problem story as being UnStuck when YOU, versus IT, are running the show. In other words, an UnStuck story is one that is no longer in charge of your life, capable of debilitating, paralyzing, or undermining your ability to make the decisions you want to make, or live the life you want to live. Getting UnStuck is the process of carefully examining your problem stories so that you can intentionally redefine your relationship to them and thereby re-author new ones that allow you to live differently. It also means moving from reactivity to responsiveness by learning how to embody your most important values, dreams, goals, and intentions.
In my work, I’m careful not to promise that UnStucking your story means that it will completely go away. However, I will unhesitatingly assure you that through our work together, you will be able to change your relationship to the story, lessen it’s influence in your life, and experience more preferred ways of being and relating.
Point #3 – Changing Your Story versus Trying to Change Someone’s Story About You:
This is a point of distinction about the areas of our lives over which we actually have some control. While we can’t necessarily change the stories that other people have about us, we can certainly change the stories we have about ourselves and about other people. No matter what the issue, I think working on our own stories is the right place to start, and a potential benefit of changing the stories we tell is that others will start to see and relate to us differently as well—of course there’s no guarantee of that, but it’s nice when it happens.
In my work with couples, I’ve seen persistently problematic stories, which caused partners to see and relate to each other in painful ways, be transformed. From these examples it could be tempting to suggest that it is possible to directly change the stories that other people tell about us. However, I must point out that these mutual transformations of narrative were only possible through the shared efforts of both partners, who were both ready and willing to see themselves and their partner differently. In other words, each individual made the choice to first re-examine the stories that they were performing in the context of the relationship, and then, by getting clear about how they wanted to relate differently, they were able to re-author new stories, which cast both partners in a more preferable light.
So, just to reiterate, yes, I believe that Narrative Practice and the UnStuck Your Story work are powerfully effective at untangling and re-authoring any problematic story that you may be struggling with. Just keep in mind the 3 important points that we have just covered,
Gradual versus Instant Change
UnStuck versus Gone for Good
Changing Your Story versus Trying to Change Someone’s Story About You
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