ISSUE No. 4

Clerestory

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The Clerestory Podcast S1 E19

Taking Care of Ourselves
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Gentle-Therapy: An Interactive Fairytale

There is no magic deeper than re-telling a story, for you are giving yourself agency to assign meaning and (most importantly) to assign usefulness to time and events. When fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen wrote, “Our lives are fairytales written by God’s fingers,” it was not just a cute ditty— it was a magic healing spell.

While we have little say in life over what happens, our imaginations and our willpower act as tools we can use to re-tell whatever story we find ourselves in. Maintaining a position of victimhood prevents us from telling any stories. You must be very careful to ignore any voice that tells you that you have no agency, for that is a lie. You are your own fairytale, and you have the power to write magic on your own metaphorical pages. While we all have experienced the healing magic of stories, the practice of using narrative as a therapeutic tool was formally developed by Michael White and David Epston. In their groundbreaking book, they describe their clinical insights and case studies of using stories as healing tools.

When we’re dealing with feelings, it is important to remember that the emotions and thoughts we have are not our identity. It is helpful to personify feelings, and turn emotions into fairytale characters inside your mind. As Michael White and David Epston argue, “…the problem becomes a separate entity and thus external to the person or relationship that was ascribed as the problem.”

Let’s go through a few examples:

Melancholy: an old woman who sits by an enchanted fireplace; she knits all your memories into a blanket, as she whispers secrets into the burning embers.

Joy: a fairy princess who has just been released from a dark spell. Breaking free from whatever dark enchantment held her captive, she leaps out from the Castle of Despair, and spreads her wings in full radiance.

Wisdom: a grey wizard, holding a wooden staff made from the trees found in the Forgotten Forest. After all, if nothing else, Wisdom should help us remember.

Now you continue the list! Imagine your emotions as fairytale characters, and explain what they look like below.

Fear:

Disgust:

Anger:

Frustration:

Excitement:

Embarrassment:

And finally, what is Gentleness’s personification? Draw or write in the space below what Gentleness looks like and feels like for you:

When you think of the word Gentleness, what scene do you imagine? Draw it in the space below:

If you remember the first essay on using Gentleness as a way to channel your rage into creativity, you will also remember that pain must be honored. Validate your emotions without giving into them fully.

When you are in the presence of someone who is in a fit of rage, the only true power you have is your own state of being. Gentleness shows itself through serenity. Gentleness never reacts. Gentleness responds. There is a difference. A response denotes understanding and the awareness of someone else’s emotional state, while simultaneously understanding your own. A reaction is an act without thought. Reactivity detracts from your autonomy and sense of self. To maintain a position of gentleness in the face of someone else’s anger might look like withdrawing or retreating, but Gentleness never reacts blindly. Gentleness is a perspicacious awareness, an insight into the reasons why someone is doing what they do and why they feel the way they feel.

Imagining your emotions as characters in a fairytale or story is a way to externalize the problem as separate from you. The problem is the problem; you are not the problem. This is my own take on a concept created by Michael White and David Epston in their groundbreaking therapy appropriately titled Narrative Therapy. White and Epston describe the process of externalization as “an approach to therapy that encourages persons to objectify and, at times, to personify the problems that they experience as oppressive.”

You are not only your feelings, nor are you only your thoughts; they are like fireflies that live inside of you. They come flitting here and there, and whizz past you—and if you like one, you might pick it up and have a chat with it—but you have the right to let them go freely and not let them torment you.

But as with anything— firefly or not—we must be gentle. Only Gentleness is powerful enough to keep us safe as we travel back in time to whatever pain or trauma happened to us. Gentleness is the magic spell that opens our imagination while also conforming to Truth.

Gentleness allows us the creative-power to re-imagine. Without Gentleness there is no remembrance, for harshness only brings self-judgement and condemnation. If you judge yourself, then you do violence to the very same feelings and memories that you are trying to heal.

*This essay was not written to replace the need for professional help. If you or a loved one is suffering, it is important that you first go to your primary care provider and/or licensed mental health provider and talk about resources that are available for your healing.

Mia Tabib is a social worker and therapist, and a recent graduate of Yale Divinity School. She loves thinking about Gentleness, and agrees with Hans Christian Andersen that our lives are all fairytales written by the hand of god.

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