People talk a lot about stories as in “she’s stuck in her story.” Story is made out to be a bad thing. Story is often given a bad rap, but there are also stories that inspire, that open doors for us. I think we need to learn the difference between stories that trap us, and stories that support us.
One of the things I learned, perhaps when I was doing co-counseling, was that if you listened with attention, the person would work their own way through whatever the problem was. One time I was listening to my friend Beverly talk about something that was troubling her. I had all sorts of ideas and agendas to ask her about, but fortunately I kept my mouth closed. She took the story to an entirely different place that was a good solution for her. So I learned to keep my mouth shut and listen.
I had another friend, someone I saw regularly, who was living in a community. Some new people moved in who belonged to a fundamentalist group. Every time I saw her, she would talk about how awful they were, how she was scared they would take over. I kept listening dutifully, hoping she would work her way through, but hearing the same story over and over. Finally I got so fed up I told her it was boring. She was horrified. I felt terrible. I thought about it a lot and realized I should have intervened much earlier. I had failed to pay attention to my own frustration, and had forgotten the useful skills of NonViolent communication. It would have been so much better if, as soon as I started feeling frustrated at hearing the same story yet again, I had said “I’m uncomfortable listening to this story. It sounds to me like you are telling the same story over and over. Could you tell me what you’re feeling as you tell me about these people?” or some variation. I learned from that experience that sometimes people do use a story to stay stuck.
I don’t think anyone uses a story to “stay stuck.” But I think it is possible to get stuck. Lots of people get stuck in “victim” stories, possibly that makes people feel sorry for them? It also allows them not to do the hard work of healing. Or they blame their perpetrator. Neither of these stories creates movement. On the other hand, sometimes you have to realize that you were a victim, because then you can stop beating yourself up about the stupid behavior that resulted from being victimized, and you can start to heal.