Guwahati,

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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

 One of the processes I use in my therapeutic practice is the process of storytelling. More than helping us re-collect memories, I feel, telling stories help us re-shape them. Say if I ask you now: tell me about your first childhood crush, when did you first see her, how did you first meet her? You would begin to tell me snatches of that story. You may perhaps not recollect the exact story, for it was many years back that it happened. But what you will be able to recollect is the feeling you felt. You will be able to recollect how you felt when you first saw her, how the first shower of something-like-love made your heart flutter, how you felt going weak on your knees, how your body turned light at the sight of her. Well, in therapeutic practice, I like to call them 'somatic memories' or 'body memories'. Because the body may not remember the exact series of events or how these events occurred. But what the body will remember is 'how it felt in those events, around those people.'

So, when clients come to me with buckets full of information about their problems that involve either incidences or people in their lives, my first query is to understand how do these incidences and people make them feel. The content and details of the story they tell me is not something I would dig in for, unless of course necessary, but what I would constantly focus on is, how every event in the story makes them feel. I'll give another example here. 
Say, a pair of twins, Lisa and Mona, is both six years old. Lisa is an extremely obedient child, somewhat timid, docile and listens to everything that her parents tell her. Mona on the other hand is feisty, rebellious, troublemaker and doesn't listen to anyone in the house. Lisa grows up to be a professor at a college but stuck with an abusive husband; try as she might, she finds it impossible to get out of that dysfunctional marriage. Mona on the other hand is a surgeon and is still trying to find a potential mate. She finds herself going on dates with a few men, but her aggression seems to get in her way. In her world, she assumes that men find her too rebellious and angry. Both these sisters, when come and tell me about their respective issues, and I as a therapist try to trace their childhood, it may happen that Lisa tells me the story of her parents treating her as a child. She may use words like over-protective, caring, defensive, and precautionary. When I ask the same question to Mona, she may tell me a completely different story about her parents. She may use words like: dominating, controlling, oppressing etc. So, what am I to assume? Is one of them lying, or did the parents really treat the two twins differently?
While I would believe in both their versions of the same story, my experience will also ask me to acknowledge that the parents perhaps didn't treat the two children differently. The parents treated the two children the 'same' way. Not necessarily in a good way or a bad way, but the same way. What matters here is, the two children 'felt' differently about their parents and hence their childhood. That is the reason I say that the importance of storytelling may not lie in the particulars of the story, but those particulars made us feel. 
And what remains hidden at the heart of such stories is: postulates. A postulate can be defined as the assumption of a certain fact or truth in order to support a particular reasoning or belief. One common example can be, a mother telling her child, "If you don't study well, you will never be able to make money." While this statement is ubiquitous in almost every Indian house, I would like to dissect it here for a bit. 
'Studying well' is an independent exercise. A lot of people like to study and do it either for curiosity, or to acquire knowledge, or out of a committed interest. 'Making money' on the other hand is an autonomous, individualistic exercise or goal. There can be so many people found who have made money without 'studying well'. Studying well could be a part of a process that demands economic productivity, but both the activities in truth are mutually exclusive of each other. So, how do we end up cross-linking two completely exclusive and unrelated ideas?
 Because we hear it so many times, and so repetitively, these keep playing like a parental-tape in our heads. And that's how they become our postulates, that we perhaps pass down to our children. They are the stones on which the fortress of our reality stands. In my therapeutic practice, my goal is to remove those stones that are eaten up by weeds, and are of no use any longer. If the fortress remains standing on those eaten stones, it will only fall and turn to pieces. So, my sole work is to identify those old postulates, shovel them out, and rebuild the foundation.
Therefore, for Lisa in order to survive as a child with her parents, she felt the importance of qualities like docility, obedience and timidity. And for Mona to survive as a child with her parents she felt the importance of qualities like rebelliousness, aggressiveness, roughness. While one's survival postulate was 'submission' - that very thing that kept her in her abusive marriage, the other's was of 'revolt' - the very thing that didn't allow her to have an amicable partner. What is important here, whosoever's story might be truer than the other, none of their postulates were favourable. They no longer helped them survive, and allowed them to have the life they wanted. Both of their postulates were obsolete and both of them were still running on those obsolete postulates. It was time to end them for both. And choose something else.