For your own peace of mind and happiness, when it comes to divorce, don’t get too attached to your story. While once believed to be therapeutically valuable, we now know that the unnecessary recounting of hurtful events is re-traumatizing. Yes, there is a way to talk about things that can be helpful and productive, however, this article concerns itself with the other way; the sometimes seemingly compulsive, pressured retelling that augments and repeats the negative experience, re-enlivening it and shackling the narrator to it like a Dickensian character.
In divorce mediation, when clients declaim a fixed version of what has happened throughout the marriage, they have usually wandered into infertile territory; not a place where fresh insights flower or change unfolds.
When a person is stuck in their negative narrative two things happen:
1. The person is continually retraumatizing themselves by retelling and re-experiencing the same version of the past which doesn’t leave room for anything else to form. Like ripping off a scab to check how the healing is going, or testing the burner again with the palm of your hand, it’s just not the best way to attend to things. Retelling what happened may be a way of seeking relief — of gathering validation, comfort, clarity. However, often it has the opposite result and the teller feels undone by so closely re-experiencing the trying event along with all the painful feelings that go with it. While the teller may be seeking control of the situation — like the idea that he who controls the narrative controls reality — he is more often enslaved by the situation and rendition of the story. He becomes the antagonist, rather than a hero, of his own story
2. Who’s in charge here? When we are the victims of our narratives, we are rarely in charge. Typically, the stories we retell out of trauma do not celebrate our strengths or our multidimensionality — but rather typecast us narrowly and negatively. Our feelings and identification with ourselves in a particular situation are running things. When feelings are running the show, you’re being run around by what you think is control, but you are actually steering one of those fake, disconnected steering wheels, while your emotions are driving your Maserati off a cliff in Northern California.
Sounds scary (and sexy perhaps, but that’s irrelevant) — it is scary — because your feelings don’t have a driver’s license and don’t know what a Maserati is. You do.
How do you know when you are being led by something other than your integrated self? [i.e. the self that you want to be captaining the ship]
- When you keep saying the same things again and again and can’t shift your thinking or take in another possibility of how something might be perceived.
- When you are so fiercely attached to your story that you are like the ancient mariner telling everyone as if compelled by a force mightier than the Albatross.
- When the intensity around your story is great.
- When you answer questions of how you feel by explaining what was done to you as if the two are indistinguishable by any reasonable person.