The Hardest Things to Say
There is a universal need to have ones story told. A key component of how I do therapy is to help clients tell their stories and for them to know that I have heard them. Once they find their voice, clients can tell their story to those in their life to whom they most want to be known.
This post is the 4th post in my blog series Five Key Factors of How Therapy Helps.
The problem is that many things can block us from telling the story we need to tell. It may be that the experience is too painful, we are humiliated, or we fear we are weird or crazy. But often, we keep even beautiful and meaningful experiences to ourselves. Certain experiences feel profound, and we can see deeper and farther when we view our world and experience from that perspective.
The things we see through this lens are exquisitely poignant, are deeply personal, and are hard to articulate. We tend to be shy when we consider expressing them. There is a beautiful passage in a coming-of-age novella, The Body, by Stephen King. He writes:
The most important things, are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings – words shrink things that seem timeless when they are in your head to no more than living size when they are brought out. The worst thing is the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.
So, how does therapy help clients tell their stories? Therapy offers the space and time to say the hardest things. When a client risks speaking of these experiences to a therapist who listens carefully, the moment feels sacred. It is an honor to be present with another as they find the words to describe what they see through the lens of their deepest heart. It is moving for the client to hear themselves tell it, thereby gaining insight, clarity, and feeling less alone in the universe. Often people come into therapy without a coherent sense of their own story. Their past experiences can feel like loose, disconnected pieces.
Finding the Story
The irony is that we need to tell our story for these pieces to come together, and an attentive listener helps us realize that the story is already in us. Of course, one doesn’t need to go to therapy to tell ones story. The story can emerge through speaking to anyone who will listen attentively and without judgment or their own agenda. The story can surface through journaling, or even reading a memoir, or listening to a podcast of someone with whom you identify. Sometimes, though rarely, it can happen spontaneously, perhaps stimulated by a meaningful encounter. Another way that therapy can help is to make us more open to the therapeutic opportunities that pop up naturally.
Ones story comes together in one piece. People with spiritual orientation often feel it is transcendent and comes from outside themselves. But sometimes, our head gets stuck in replay mode, not of our actual story, but of a script we act out from our childhood or earlier experiences as an adult. This is how therapy can help. I help people find their story by telling it to me, and I can often see things fall into place. Through active listening, interest, and follow-up questions, I help a coherent narrative to manifest itself. I often see a shift. The client shifts from feeling like a thing happened to them to feeling like the protagonist of their story. A story told many times truly becomes a story one has mastery of.