Unlocking Emotions with Narrative Conversations

For many of us, lockdown is as busy and occupied as life ever was. Some of us are working from home, others are studying from home getting ready for the exams. We are taking care of ourselves and of our family members. In this lockdown, while people can’t visit each other, there are some things that visit us which we cannot ignore – our emotions. 

Why is it that we need to think about our emotions when there are other things to worry about? 

We make many decisions in just a day., Approximate, 35,000. This includes routine tasks, work tasks, and many unexpected things that keep happening in our life. In my experience, at times emotions can spark joy and at other times they can be overwhelming, and influence our decisions. For example, when hopelessness, boredom or irritation visit me, they influence my decisions in a way that I may not want.

Recently, “hopelessness” visited me. I started to think that there will be no vaccines available and this lockdown will not end. I will not be able to meet my friends and hug any of them. I won’t be able to have tea with my friends at our favorite cafe. It was almost midnight while I was experiencing this emotion, and felt a little overwhelmed. 

I was reminded of my school facilitation memories where I have taken sessions with students on emotions from a Narrative and Social-Emotional Learning lens. 

At that point, I started thinking about my students and our conversations about emotions. We used a particular practice called externalization, which is part of Narrative Therapy Practices, to understand emotions better. My students would come up with some really creative conversations. So I told myself, “if I have done this with my students, what if I apply this practice with myself right now?”

“Narrative Therapy seeks to be a respectful, non-blaming approach to counseling and community work, which centers people as experts in their own lives. It views problems as separate from people and assumes people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments, and abilities that will assist them to reduce the influence of problems in their lives.” writes, Alice Morgan in What is Narrative Therapy? An Easy to Read Introduction.

Narrative Practices is influenced by many ideas. One of the key ideas that helped me in this particular midnight situation was “people are not the problem. Problem is the problem”.

Many times, we think that the emotions we experience are the problem. We label ourselves with that emotion and start blaming ourselves for them. When we believe that “people are not the problem, the problem is the problem,” we realize that we and our emotions are not problems. So it is important for us to view our emotions as separate from us. To externalize emotions and understand why a particular emotion is visiting us.  

Externalizing conversations place the problem outside our bodies and help us in finding a solution by understanding ‘the problem’. 

As I began to externalize, I realized that the real problem for me was the lockdown because of which I am not being able to meet my friends or go for a walk at my favorite places. I could have easily blamed myself for not being positive or not being able to cope up like others are doing. 

Externalizing enables us to focus on the problem as opposed to blaming people. This makes it possible for people to experience an identity that is separate from the problem; the problem becomes the problem, not the person. In the context of externalizing conversations, the problem ceases to represent the “truth” about people’s identities, and options for successful problem resolution suddenly become visible and accessible.

When “Hopelessness” visited me, I did not reject it. First, I noticed it and acknowledged that it is visiting me. By doing that, the emotion did not become my identity, neither did I see it as a problem. 

I said to myself, “I don’t have to feel hopeful always and it is okay to feel what I am feeling.” Then I asked myself, “why the feeling of hope is important to me?” 

I then invited Hope in my conversation with Hopelessness. My conversation was interrupted by Hopelessness’s loud voice. It said, “Hope is not important in your life. If you allow me to stay, I will give you comfort.”  

While I was conversing with Hopelessness, Hope stood there, listening to our conversation with a smile. The sad face of Hopelessness was not helping me. I fondly said to Hopelessness, “I have heard your side and I am not denying you. But Hope is my friend. Don’t you think I should have a conversation with it too?” 

With its sad face, Hopelessness said, “ok.” I then started talking to Hope about what I was feeling. The conversation came to me in poetry:

Hope, a 4 letter word.

Sometimes it feels like it’s a phase of life.

Our lives and dreams have been shattered

So how can I hope, I ask?

The truth is clear and bitter

So tell me how can I hope?

I am not ready for this.

Hope, a 4 letter word and a feeling of better tomorrow.

Where does this hope come from?

Why is the old world still spinning?

Why is my mind still curious?

How can I breathe! Isn’t hope supposed to be oxygen?

What are you HOPE?

You are not even essential but why are you always there?

You seem to be part of everything I hold.

My dreams and my relationships.

Why have you been part of my life?

Why can’t I just stay with tough emotions?

Why do you have to visit me often?

Stop being my resistance.

I see a dark world ahead.

I want to be lost ahead.

But without you, will I be able to wake up tomorrow?

Maybe yes! Will I be the same person without you?

Are you my identity or fake feeling?

I am not who you are.

I am HOPE. A moment of existence.

A tiny part of life tied with your memories,

 relationship, love, dreams, and everything in your life.

Am I a reminder? I don’t know but I am a very small 

and invisible friends tied in your heart, mind, and soul.

Will you be able to get rid of me?

You would but I don’t know how to give up.

Persistence is my friend. We would often visit you. 

We will knock on your door till you accept us.

Whatever is making you rid of me, that person is our friend too.

So knock knock

Who is it?

Hope, a 4 letter word.

Hope, a 4 letter word, who?

The one that has brought you 

a letter so you can smile 

and wonder.

As I wrapped up this conversation with Hope, the other friends of Hope – Dream and My Work – became visible. The army of Hope was bigger than that of Hopelessness after this conversation. Hopelessness had to go. Before leaving, Hopelessness said, “I am leaving now. I may return someday with new offers to befriend me.” 

With my friends, Hope, Dream, and My Work, I replied to Hopelessness with a smile, “I consider you a friend and you can visit me whenever you want. When you come back we will again have a conversation like friends and next time I will offer you tea.”  

In this conversation, I recognized, Hope has been an important value in my life. During my college years, I did not score passing marks for all the subjects. At that time, Hope came to me through my friends who supported and encouraged me to not give up. Hope has motivated me in my life to tolerate rejections at jobs. It’s a value and reminder of my strength when I feel stuck in life.

This lockdown may make us feel stuck and it is important to remind ourselves of the values and strength that we hold. Let’s remember that many feelings and emotions will visit us. And that’s ok. Through conversations such as these, we can navigate through them. I hope that these narrative ideas bring joy, peace, and healthy ways of living for all of us.

About the author: 

Akash Gaikwad has completed his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology from Mumbai University.  He is also co-founder of THE SHOR poetry group. He works at Apni Shala as a fellow. When Akash is not working, you will find him drinking chai (tea) and listening to music or walking.

References:

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