How stories can heal and inspire us to overcome.
“If you want to know where to find your contribution to the world, look at your wounds. When you learn how to heal them, teach others”
— Emily Maroutian
This month we will be focusing on narrative and mental health. Our narratives – as in, our account of reality, and how we construct them can be important in our ability to cope, heal and make sense of the world and people around us.
Carl Jung, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, created the term, ‘wounded healer’ to describe people who are compelled to help others because they themselves are wounded. Students on a first year counselling course may find themselves referred to as ‘rescuers’ in need of rescuing themselves first, and through their journey of self awareness and healing old wounds they then become equipped with the resilience and skills to be able to aid others in their healing journey. It figures then that research shows, a large majority of counsellors and psychotherapists came to their career path because of one or a number of experiences that caused them wounds. Our stories shape us and make us who we are and very often lead us to our purpose in life.
One of the ways people can help in these kinds of professions is by sharing their own journeys through self disclosure, writing papers and books on the subject, giving lectures and so on. These all require a form of storytelling however, either from our own experience/s, from someone else’s experience that we have been able to see play out; or by using our imagination as a way to illustrate, inspire or uplift a client to take some form of positive action in their life.
Of course it is not just professionals who have stories to tell. We all have experienced trials in life and so we all can become storytellers in some manner, whether it is the mother finding a creative way to teach her child about inner beauty and being kind, whether it is the patient telling their story of how they overcame a terrible illness to find a new lease in life, or the neighbour sharing how they worked through the grief of losing their spouse. We all have things to share, and through our resilience and vulnerability we have the ability to motivate and make others feel better, often without knowing the significance of our words.
There are times we will come across people who have a very negative view of life. We come to wonder if the tests that came to teach them life lessons and make them grow, made them bitter instead and there is a lot of healing that needs to happen in those cases. But here we want to concentrate on the stories of overcoming, because it is these stories that encourage us, that give us hope, which can help us see a light in the midst of all the darkness – we do not need to know the person to be able to relate to their words. Stories have power in this way to influence, and to motivate us to take action in areas of our own lives.
When we come across people who have gone through the same difficulties as us we are drawn to them, we relate and we learn from them. So then this one test for one person doesn’t just help that one person grow, but if that person shares their story, then perhaps many people will also overcome their own struggles, it is as a torch that lights many other torches.
In the Qur’an and stories of the Prophets we also have many good examples not just of overcoming trials, but also ways to keep motivated with important lessons of patience and inspiring lessons of gratefulness. It could have just been a series of orders and rules to live by but instead in the stories, we can find forever relevant visual and metaphorical representations of how to live our lives. The Qur’an is written in the most beautiful and poetic verse and at the time of the revelation, people had deep reverence of the words and storytelling was a natural way of passing down wisdom.
The first story in Surah al Kahf tells of four companions who lived in a society whereby they were persecuted for their beliefs, a story we can relate to at a time when Islam is attacked in every corner of the world. It was just as relevant to the time the verse came down when Muslims had and were facing persecution for their beliefs. Through this story we learn of holding onto our beliefs and values despite the opposition that we face and that by putting our trust in Allah SWT we will find safety and success. This is one of the most powerful stories for Muslims at this time and can give that extra motivation to stay strong in Imaan (faith) no matter what negative behaviour they have to face.
Within this surah we have the story of the man with two gardens and we learn about arrogance and putting too much importance on wealth. The story of Musa AS and Khidr AS, teaches us about being humble and understanding that no matter how much knowledge we have, we still have a lot to learn. The final story in this surah is the story of Dhul-Qarnayn, a king who conquered the lands of the west and the east with great compassion, justice and kindness, and so this is a lesson in having righteousness in a position of power.
What all the stories have in common is that firstly we put our trust in Allah SWT and after that it shows us how to have great character and adopt traits that will only increase our wellbeing the more we apply and adhere to them.
We each have our own unique stories, some may find it better to verbalise or write about it and some may not. When we turn pain into potential we unlock many skills and strengths we were unaware we even had and it can start us on a journey of recovery. Lily Asch from TellYours 2018 storytelling troupe, says,
“I’ve seen stories cultivate empathy for fellow humans, empower individuals who thought they had nothing to share, spark rich conversations and hold space for imagination and escape. It is an art form that holds the power to reduce conflict and help us heal wounds.”
Do you find it easy to talk about yourself or your life-story?