The Power of Story - Part 2
“Good medicine always tastes bad”
- Ron Hall
In our previous article ‘The Power of Story – Part 1’ we explored the mechanism behind stories as ‘medicine.’ We explained how in practical psychotherapy, Gestalt Therapy is used in the healing and processing of difficult situations.
Remember that it is widely understood that the unconscious mind understands situations with a renewed perspective when presented with relevant metaphors. We know this from the study of Jungian Psychology and Dream Analysis, and we see a wealth of evidence of it throughout the ages of mankind through art and literature.
We explored how the concept of the ’Universal Law of Reflection’ can be used to explain why certain tales can evoke certain responses within us. A character that pleases us is reflecting parts of the Self that are pleasing to us. Conversely, a character that we do not like is reflecting parts of the Self that do not meet with our approval, (this is Shadow Work:
When we are drawn to a particular story, the characters and plot have something to teach us.
The tool at the end of our previous article allows the reader to re-experience the emotions that are connected with a favourite story and were evoked when they were first felt. These will include emotions connected to their circumstances at the time, for example, sitting on a parent’s knee, or watching a film on a first date. They will also include the positive lessons and messages that the story had to offer - these are the reasons for the story becoming a pleasurable memory. The exercise is illuminating!
What about stories that make us feel uncomfortable?
There are many reasons why a story might have this effect on us. Again, it could be that we connect the circumstances of our first hearing the tale with it when it is repeated.
It could be that we recognise patterns of human behaviour and experience which evoke unpleasant memories. In other words, we have experienced something similar to the characters in the plot and have processed it in such a way that negative emotion continues to be evoked on remembering it.
It could be that some main themes and characters are difficult to watch because we have pushed the parts of ourselves that are reflected there so far into the Shadow that we are made profoundly uncomfortable by them.
Where is the medicine here?
Of course, there is a possibility that ‘Shadow Work’ can play a part here.
There is also the possibility that we are being ‘shown’ where our negative past experiences are still influencing us in the present and there is work that can be done here too. This might be in either the plot and plight of the characters, remembering negative experiences of first hearing the story, or both.
Understanding where and why we have been unpleasantly provoked is medicine in itself because we can then consciously choose whether or not to do the inner work.
At the end of our previous article we alluded to the following tool for extracting the most valuable medicine from the stories that we find difficult to hear:
Think of a story that makes you feel uncomfortable.
This might be a childhood story book or fairy-tale, a film, a poem or a song lyric.
Understand that this tale provokes to you because it is medicine.
Sit with it.
Along with the tale itself there may be connections to a time of discomfort that contribute to the reasons for your dislike of it.
These are also gifts.
Begin to recall every aspect of the story.
Explore the story.
What about it do you dislike?
The overall message?
What about this story makes you uncomfortable?
What emotions does it evoke?
Where do you feel them in your body?
Where else in your life have you felt like this?
Sit with it
Now examine the characters
Who do you identify with the most?
Who do you like the most? (this is reflecting parts of the Self that meet your approval)
Who do you dislike the most? (this is reflecting parts of the Self that do not meet your approval - see our article on Shadow Work - Love Your Shadow (resilientpractice.co.uk)
Explore each character, their plight and their motives.
Who is struggling?
“Where does this character appear in my psyche?”
“What tools does this character need to prevail?”
What tools does ‘Carrie’ need to survive her bullies’ attacks?
What tools does ‘Peter Pan’ need to grow up?
What tools do ‘Rose and Jack’ need to survive the sinking of the Titanic?
What tools does ‘Pinocchio’ need to become a real boy?
Now apply these questions to your own chosen tale.
Sit with it.
Now, gift those tools to the characters in your tale. Know that in order to gift them, you must have possession of those tools yourself.
Clearly picture those tools and how they will be used to affect a different and ‘better’ end to the story. By doing this you embody the tools yourself, and can visualise in an aligned way, how those tools can be used in your own life and in similar situations where you have previously felt vulnerable. Remember that the story spoke to you. It showed you your wounds and that the balm for them was in your pocket all along!
For more insights into self-mastery see How to Rise: A Complete Resilience Manual
If you enjoyed this article please like, share and comment