What's Your Story?

Updated: Aug 26

A narrative is the story of what has happened in a person’s life. It is a construct of events created to facilitate communication, and it is influenced by emotion, perception, and motivation. Cheryl Mattingly, in her chapter, Emergent Narratives, states, “A narrative form is sketched in action, one with beginning, middle and end...there are powerful motives to transform therapy time into a domain of significance, one that acquires phenomenological weight because it creates a present which is threefold, which embodies connections to the past, and, especially, to future” (Mattingly, 2000, p. 106). She describes a narrative as a transformative mechanism giving importance to something that might have been otherwise been forgotten. The story is the culmination of moments that have transcended into something with ‘phenomenological weight’ connecting the past to the future solidifying its construct. Since it is created by both the listener and teller, conflicting motives can and will influence the architecture of the story.

Laurence Kirmayer points this out in his chapter, Broken Narratives, when he writes about the telling of narrative as “an interaction in which audience (or interlocutor) actively shapes the telling and the teller--indeed, in which more than one story(teller) is active at once, and each shapes the other in an ongoing exchange or contest” (Kirmayer, 2000, p. 173). He sees the narrative as a residual manifestation of the motivational differences between teller and listener indicating a preconceived notion held by both to ensure they are part of the final construct, and perhaps even to win the ‘contest.’ The narrative is therefore much more than just the story told or an accounting of events. It is driven by varying personal backgrounds and agendas that are present long before the inception of communicating to one another. The narrator has a unique vantage point from which to guide the personal construct. He is not actually part of the story but helps craft it into some sort of moral message steering its trajectory, which Mattingly considers to be a ‘privileged perspective.’ She goes on to say, “The narrator has more than knowledge, she also has a moral voice” (Mattingly, 2000, p. 185). However, there are many factors that can influence this moral voice that need to be considered.

What also complicates the process is the way a story is told. When emotionally charged stories are shared, information can be skewed. In Tim O’Brien’s chapter, How to Tell a True War Story, he writes, “Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness” (O’Brien, 1998, p. 68). When people have experiences that are dramatically out of their typical normal scope, they manufacture truths in order to make sense of what they’ve been through in order to survive.

The construction of narrative is a complicated process that requires one to be aware of the many factors involved that can either hinder or help. With each narrative collected, it is the responsibility of the narrator to consider not only how this information can be used to help the person directly, but how it can be used to also help others who are in similar circumstances making the narrator a gatekeeper as well as a conduit. The information gathered and narrative created today will influence the narrative constructed tomorrow.

References Kirmayer, L. J. (2000). Broken Narratives, Clinical Encounters and the Poetics of Illness Experience. In C. Mattingly & L. Garro (Eds.), Narrative and the Cultural Construction of Illness and Healing (pp. 153-177). Berkeley and Los Angeles California: University of California Press.

Mattingly, C. (2000). Emergent Narratives. In C. Mattingly & L. Garro (Eds.), Narative and the Cultural Construction of Illness and Healing (pp. 181-211). Berkeley and Los Angeles California: University of California Press.

O’Brien, T. (1998). How to tell a true war story. In The things they carried (pp. 65-81). New York: Broadway Books.


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