The Narrative Metaphor

In this chapter we examine how stories are an important frame through which we make meaning of our lives. In each reading and video provided we invite you to be on the lookout for the multi-stories of people’s lives rather than a single story.

Photo: Shaun Tan: Eric (with permission)

 

This dot exercise from Jill Freedman and Gene Combs was animated by Will Sherwin to help you visualise the Narrative Therapy concept of ‘multi-storied lives’.

 

For more from Jill and Gene you can go to narrativetherapychicago.com.

For more from Will Sherwin and Bay Area Narrative Therapy Resource, trainings and radio shows you can go to sfbantr.org.

 


 

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. In ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ she speaks about how our lives and our cultures are composed of many overlapping stories.

 


 

We have included here an extract from Alice Morgan’s influential and highly popular text in which she provides a brief introduction to the narrative metaphor

What is Narrative Therapy – An Easy to Read Introduction | Alice Morgan

 


 

In this short extract Michael White’s speaks about the possibilities that the narrative metaphor opened up in his therapeutic work, what attracted him to the narrative metaphor and offers an example of how the narrative metaphor shapes therapeutic conversations.

The narrative metaphor in family therapy | an interview with Michael White


 

What is the narrative of our lives – and can we influence the way our story is told? Michael White and Barbara Brooks, a memoir writer, join producer Gretchen Miller in conversation on ABC Radio National and online. Michael and Barbara joined Gretchen Miller to talk about the grand narratives of our lives and how much influence we have over the way our story unfolds

The Power of Storytelling

 


This (draft) Charter proposes a framework for considering storytelling rights. We hope it will spark discussions about the rights of people who have experienced trauma/social suffering in relation to how their stories are told and received.

Narrative Therapy (Draft) Charter of Story-Telling Rights by David Denborough

Article 1  Everyone has the right to define their experiences and problems in their own words and terms.

Article 2  Everyone has the right for their life to be understood in the context of what they have been through and in the context of their relationships with others.

Article 3  Everyone has the right to invite others who are important to them to be involved in the process of reclaiming their life from the effects of trauma.

Article 4 Everyone has the right to be free from having problems caused by trauma and injustice located inside them, internally, as if there is some deficit in them. The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.

Article 5 Everyone has the right for their responses to trauma to be acknowledged. No one is a passive recipient of trauma. People always respond. People always protest injustice.

Article 6  Everyone has the right to have their skills and knowledges of survival respected, honoured and acknowledged.

Article 7  Everyone has the right to know and experience that what they have learnt through hardship can make a contribution to others in similar situations.

 


 

Photo: Shaun Tan: Eric

For Reflection 

 

How would you describe the narrative metaphor?

 

What might thinking about stories in this way make possible for you?

 


 

Please now share your thoughts & reflections below and then continue to the next chapter! Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks! 


This Post Has 852 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mona

    The narrative metaphor is an extraordinary lens through which we could view a problem. It is thrilling to know how a single problem could have many different narratives and it is even more interesting to understand the powerful impact of the narratives we hold, on our lives. It is hopeful and encouraging to know that since the narration is a constructive process, it could be deconstructed and further reconstructed in a way that directs us towards healthy and authentic living.

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    Sandra

    The narrative metaphor refers to the way we make sense of who we are, framing our life experiences into stories. Often, we go back to a dominant story, with a thin description that focuses on one, often “problematic” side of ourselves. We can also explore alternative stories that unearth a side of ourselves that was hidden. This alternative story, if richly described, offers possibilities, hope.
    Thinking of dominant story and alternative story put the dominant story into perspective. It’s not all encompassing anymore. The dominant story is just a limiting version of ourselves.
    – Sevilla, Spain.

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    Kat

    The narrative metaphor contains multi-stories that are multilayered and multidimensional, not ‘thin’ or linear, which I can imagine would be incredibly freeing for an individual who feels stuck. The use of this metaphor also seems like it would be an effective way to ‘zoom out’ and develop an observing self and a safe way to heal trauma without going into it.

    I really appreciated the example in the conversation on ABC Radio National in which Michael White brought in a 3rd person to retell a client’s story from her perspective, so the client could see himself in a new light. Brilliant!

    Kat (B.C., Canada)

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    paulsafhill-2631

    The thin story, or singular narrative that we can often impose upon ourselves or have imposed upon us is can be so damaging. i have always prided myself in working holistically along side people as a psychiatric nurse but this excites me in regards to how i could try to adopt a different approach.

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    misstaylorhalliwell

    I find the idea of the narrative metaphor beautiful because it allows space for a person to remember other parts or increments of themselves or their events in their life. It can break cycles of thinking of one problematic story repetitively and a new story and narrative can develop.

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    Mischa

    The Narrative Metaphor is to me an awakening, a welcome to the “whole of you”, an introduction to who you may have been, who you may be, and who you can be. The use of telling and re-telling stories which are not limiting and that instead open up possibilities is both hopeful and transformational.

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      stephanie.opulencia

      I like the idea that narrative metaphors make space for the forgotten and ignored stories. To me this is the idea that it can be a place to celebrate the bravery, thoughtfulness and wisdom of the unacknowledged self, often ignored in deference to the thin story of the “victim”, “worthless” or “helpless”

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    Nancy

    It’s exciting to think of the narrative metaphor as an approach that opens up never-before-told stories that capture one’s imagination and help exude confidence. Repetitive, linear, “thin” stories lose their verve and can lead to feelings of victimization. Finding new interpretations and unearthing self-affirming stories can open up horizons for helping someone to pioneer a more elevated sense of self. When I get bored with my own repeated telling of a past experience of loss or failure, I realize that it’s time to enlist the writer in me and add dimension to myself as a character by being curious and compassionate.
    Glen Mills, PA

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    Isabel Beuve

    I have found the example of the dots very illustrative of how live and experiencies should not be seen as a Line. By learning how our different narrative voices work, we can find out new and healthier perspectives full with possibilities. It is very interesting and hopefull to learn to be able to help people re-tell their stories .
    Thank you and greetings from Spain.

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    yevheniia.kh

    I find it great that people can transform their lives by creating alternative stories. Also it was very interesting to read and hear about thin stories – the stories generated by others. Narrative metaphor is the answer to reducing the influence of other people and different problems and to creating new possibilities for living. I’m excited to dive in deeper.
    Kyiv, Ukraine

  10. Avatar

    Nancy

    It’s exciting to think of the narrative metaphor as an approach that opens up never-before-told stories that capture one’s imagination and help exude confidence. Repetitive, linear, “thin” stories lose their verve and can lead to feelings of victimization. Finding new interpretations and unearthing self-affirming stories can open up new horizons for helping someone to pioneer a more elevated sense of self. When I get bored with my own repeated telling of a past experience of loss or failure, I realize that it’s time to enlist the writer in me and add dimension to myself as a character by being curious and compassionate.
    Glen Mills, PA

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    deb.brevis

    I enjoyed the idea of Narrative being the thread that weaves its way through our life events, drawing them together more intricately so that they may create a more colourful fabric of understanding and perception.
    For me this understanding can help create a richer tapestry, one of complexity, contradiction and resolution.
    Warrnambool, Australia

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    Ivan

    I like the notion of multiple threads of storylines, that weave meaning in our lives. Just reflecting on my personal stories, reminds me of where I have come from and what I have experienced. No single story can define anyone’s life.

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    Sergio Chacón

    I believe that narrative metaphor is the DNA of life, with its particular expression in each of us, but always linked to a larger reality.
    It is both an approach and a working tool. Likewise, stories are both content and container.
    In my opinion, this metaphor underlies many therapeutic approaches and, moreover, nourishes the main currents of Latin American community work (Fals Borda, Freire, Montero, Zambrano, etc.).

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    e.murphy1988@gmail.com

    I’m interested in how this narrative concept of single- v. multi-story plays out in the design and function of our social media. Here, algorithms group and promote alike things to us while filtering out that which doesn’t fit (the narrative). These biases undoubtedly impact us and shape our world view. Now, this isn’t always necessarily problematic. However, if determined to be so, the consideration of alternative and/or simultaneous stories seems an apt way to help “decalcify” the single problem-story. While it is more challenging to carry multiple stories (and this may not be our default as humans), I believe this practice might offer a better way to honour the rich, complexity of the human experience. Thanks for this — really enjoying the course so far!
    – Toronto, Canada

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    Ronnie Dunetz

    Knowing that there are, have been and always will be “alternative stories” gives the individual and humanity hope and inspiration always! Lovely concepts here- am enjoying and learning!

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    Hilda

    The narrative metaphor is a really powerful way to recognise just how impactful our meaning-making can be, and also, the consequences of such a tendency! It really shows how we can get stuck in a story, and be limited in how we see ourselves, others and the world. On the flip side, it also shows how we can possibly navigate outside of this limited mindset, and start to locate stories that aren’t so dominant. For me, it demonstrates a way to hope, and to new perspectives.

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    Elisabeth

    I am in a rush, jump to conclusions quickly. I find boxes to make sense of the world, without including the world around me. I judge myself and others regularly, without questioning it, not even noticing. When I function like that, I am unaware. I do not separate the problem from the person, and I miss the many stories that could be told, heard. Once I pause, I create space. Space for multiple stories that form the people in the here and now. Stories of the past and stories of the present. Stories of culture and connection to places and land. For me narrative metaphor means pausing to create space. Space that is often missing in daily life. Space that holds stories that can emerge to be noticed, understood, told and re-told.

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    Chris

    As meaning-making machines, I believe that we all strive to ‘make sense’ of our lives at some point or another. This initial glimpse into Narrative Therapy pokes at the alternative opportunities that lie in that ‘sense made’. By defining ourselves through a singular story, our application of selective biases reinforce our perceptions of who we believe ourselves to be. Are we breeding feelings of confidence, fear, anger, depression? Or have we missed a whole other multi-layered, 3 dimensional side of our story?
    I’m very excited to explore the applications of these unrealized story-laden narrative opportunities in both my personal work and my professional work. We don’t have to be just one self- (or other-) imposed storyline. Our lives are far too complex for that to be our only truth.
    – Calgary, Canada

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