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You’re the Expert – Finding Belonging Through Storytelling

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This post comes to us from Bridges to Belonging:

It’s easy to look at a negative experience and believe that it reflects on you as a person. “It’s just me” or “It’s because of my own shortcomings” are common thoughts that can entrap us in deeper feelings of loneliness and separation from others. We begin to attribute the obstacles in our life to the flaws we see in ourselves, and believe that we are alone in our struggles.

Feeling that you are the only one who is struggling can make you feel isolated from others, which can be incredibly damaging to your emotional, physical, and mental well-being. That’s why it’s important to recognize those moments when you’re blaming yourself for something that went wrong, and shift your thoughts from “It’s because of me” to “This is something many people face; I’m not alone.”

Stanford psychologist Dr. Gregory Walton developed a technique called Attributional Retraining that helps people make that shift. The key to this technique is in storytelling: when you go through a negative event, try sitting down and writing about your experience (you can also draw it out). Now that you’ve been through it once, think of yourself as an expert on the matter and reflect on what happened; make suggestions for how others can cope in the same situation.

As Walton says, “We often operate from very biased information. We have our own experience and can only see others from the outside. Many of us are having these same difficulties, but no one is showing it, and so we can feel isolated and depressed.

By telling our experiences as a story to another person, we begin to understand that our situation is something that others go through as well. It can be hard for many people to manage intense emotions, work up motivation, or deal with disappointment. If you share your experience in trying to do these things, others might learn how to deal with those problems, too.

Attaching a narrative three-actsframework to your struggles can also help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by them. By organizing your experience into a beginning, middle, and end, “the meaning of the negative experience is constrained, and people understand that when bad things happen, it’s not just them, they are not alone, and that it’s something that passes.” Even if your problem hasn’t ended yet, reflecting on what has already happened can help you plan for what’s to come. You can even try writing a hopeful end, and make that hopeful end the goal you are working towards.

Once you’ve written down your experiences, read it over and keep the suggestions you came up with in mind. The next time you come across someone facing the same troubles, you can tell them your story and give them your advice. That way, both of you will know that it’s not just you, that others go through the same problems, and that we can all move forward and beyond our struggles together.

 

References:

Amanda Enayati, “The importance of belonging.”

Gregory Walton, “A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students.”

June 17th, 2016
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