We Are All Story Tellers

In recent weeks we have been giving a lot of time and thought to the idea of narrative. What is narrative in the context of social work and the clients we work with here at Sharon Horn Consulting? Individuals and families make sense of the world and their experiences through a process of meaning construction. Narrative is one way we as individuals can construct meaning. For example, the diagnosis of a life-threatening or life-altering illness forces us to revise our life narrative and reconstruct meaning.

Here at Sharon Horn Consulting we work with many individuals and families who encounter a life event that forces revision of the life narrative and the reconstruction of meaning. Many of us share similar narratives such as finding a life partner, having healthy children and watching them grow into independent adults who find their own partners and create their own life. Thus we can imagine how having a child with a disability, or if we ourselves develop a life-altering illness how drastically the narrative is interrupted and how quickly we must transition to adapt to the new narrative.

According to Dr. Bronna Romanoff and Social Worker Barbara Thompson in the article Meaning Construction in Palliative Care: The Use of Narrative, Ritual, and the Expressive Artshuman beings are makers of meaning. We are able to anticipate the events of our day and we move fairly predictably through our lives because of this ability to attribute causality and infuse events with meanings. Romanoff and Thompson explain,

Meaning construction, the process by which we make sense of our world, is an inherently social act. The perceptions and constructs through which we experience ourselves and our world are shaped from expectancies and core beliefs developed through unique experience and shared culture. Moreover, human beings are fundamentally storytellers. We live our lives according to the narrator principle: humans think, perceive, imagine and make moral choices according to narrative structures. We know ourselves and our world through the stories we tell ourselves. Our stories give meaning to our past and give direction to our future. They note our triumphs and script our maladaptations. Our stories and scripts are learned in the family crucible, the vehicle for transmission of social norms and cultural myths and values and the template for all future relationships.

Thus, for many individuals and families a sudden death of a young spouse/parent, the diagnosis of chronic, life altering or life-threatening illness requires revision of the assumptions that have ordered and guided experience and involves the construction of a new life story. How individuals re-create meaning and construe this life event (death of a loved one, new diagnosis etc) can have significant implications for long-term physical and emotional well-being.

So how can we help our clients assimilate this unexpected detour in their narrative? Most individuals have a story to tell, and many are eager to tell their stories. For many, illness, impending loss, the diagnosis of a child with a disability, or a life-altering diagnosis  tears apart the coherence of the life narrative. These massive life events can dramatically disrupt our daily activities, our identities and our imagined futures. As Romanoff and Thompson beautifully describe, “The linear structure of the modern mythic story, the culturally shared assumptions by which we live our lives, is derailed.”

At Sharon Horn Consulting, we feel privileged to accept the challenge of helping individuals and families construct and reconstruct a meaningful tale, to write a new chapter of the life story that accommodates a changed reality and lived experience. Through exploring new opportunities, assisting with organization during a time of chaos, and providing support and advocacy every step of the way, it is our hope that we can help individuals to rewrite the story in such a way that serves a purpose and provides meaning yet again.

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