Storytelling: A Credit to Your Emotions
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
By Margery Pabst
Margery Pabst is the co-author of Enrich Your Caregiving Journey (Expert Publishing, February 2009) and is a national speaker and facilitator. She will be speaking at The Fifth Eden International Conference in Denver on June 15 on Storytelling: The Fuel For Transformation. Learn more about Margery and her book at www.pivotalcrossings.com.
Stories have a transforming effect on those who tell them and those who listen. As caregivers, your story and how it is told is important to your emotional health and lifelong learning. Rather than keeping your story to yourself, telling it and encouraging others to tell theirs are signs of well being. But how we tell our story and how we listen to others is a critical component for leading to personal transformation with yourself, your patient, and your family.
Stories come in all sizes from the small two sentence variety to the larger several page format. I like to think of stories this way: lots of little stories often make up the tapestry of a large story. When someone calls you to find out how you’re doing on any given day, the smaller story is the result. An example: "I’m doing better today. I decided to go for a long walk and get some fresh air. It really cleared my mind and helped me make the decision about Carl’s care at the Alzheimer’s Center. The change of scene helped me formulate some questions to ask." This example might become the turning point of a caregiver’s longer story. So the first principle is WE ARE CREATING OUR STORY EVERY DAY.
Stories also come in both negative and positive varieties. Certainly, we are all going to have bad days when we give care, so we can’t always have positive stories or even put a positive spin on a story. However, when we can, it is important to tell the story in a way that demonstrates learning, that shows enlightenment can come from struggles. In the example above, the storyteller clearly was struggling with an issue, and her walk provided some perspective. She could easily have told it with a more negative tone: "I’m better but not great. I went for a long walk but the air wasn’t as fresh as I anticipated. I guess it was useful because I finally made a decision about Carl. I’ll probably have misgivings tomorrow."
What do you think? Which telling of the story is more useful to the caregiver? Which version credits the caregiver’s emotional bank account? My bias is that, in the second more negative telling, the caregiver is setting herself up for more failure than the first more positive telling. The second principle is HOW WE TELL THE STORY AND THE WORDS WE CHOOSE CAN DETERMINE OUR SUCCESS AS CAREGIVERS. Note the words "not", "wasn’t", "misgivings" are the words suggesting a half empty rather than a half full experience.
Storytellers need good listeners too, listeners who engage and ask questions that bring out even more details of the story. Both the storyteller and listener benefit from the questions because the story’s meaning is enhanced. A good listener who assists the storyteller might ask: "What questions did you come up with?", "Which one do you like best?", "What makes today better for you?" "What is your decision?" "Would you like to talk about it in more detail?" The third principle? A GOOD LISTENER HELPS ENLARGE THE POSSIBILITIES AND EXPAND THE UNDERSTANDING OF CAREGIVING.
Stories help us share meaning and understanding of ourselves. For the caregiver, this is crucial since caregiving can feel and be a lonely enterprise. As a caregiver, there were many times when I felt alone and unique as I struggled to care for my loved ones. At times, I felt that I was the only one in the world facing such daunting situations. Principle number four is STORYTELLING CREATES COMMUNITY AND CONFIRMS WE ARE NOT ALONE.
I encourage you to tell, to listen and finally to WRITE DOWN YOUR STORIES. Journaling as a fifth principle was and is an antidote to emotional stress, clarifying issues and showing meaning along the way. When I review my journals, I can literally see where I’ve been and what I’ve learned. I review the little and the big stories, the turning points and the humdrum activities. Through it all, I find perspective, knowledge, and a credited emotional account. I hope you find delight and meaning from storytelling.