Working with the past is an interesting area for a coach or facilitator of change. One has to be careful, as it can lead into quite deep therapeutic waters, very rapidly. Nonetheless, we can’t (and shouldn’t) avoid encouraging people to think and talk about the past; after all, it is a rich source of learning, and reflecting on experience is a primary source of learning. However, we need to make sure we don’t encourage people to re-live the past, or regression may become an issue.
But with that caveat in mind, it is very valuable to trace the history of an unhelpful story, as it will often increase understanding. For example, in a conflict, it can be helpful to recognise that the story of this being a difficult relationship had a start, at a moment in time. Before that, different stories were at play. Recognising that simple truth may help people to believe that a future free from conflict is also possible.
And quite frequently, as one explores the history of a story, new understandings emerge. I experienced this recently, when a coach was asking me about my seemingly contradictory characteristics of being a bit of an exhibitionist and performer (on one hand) and being very reserved (on the other). Her question was, which was the real me?
My immediate response was that the real me is the quiet, reflective, rather shy person; and that the performative aspect of my character is something I have learned in order to do my job as a trainer and facilitator. And that is the story I have had about myself for many years. But hearing myself articulate it like that caused me to reflect on it, and then challenge it. I recalled that as a young boy, I was known as a chatterbox and a showoff. And as we traced the development of the story of me as quiet, reflective and shy, I realised that these were attributes I developed as a teenager, in the face of fairly severe bullying.
So in a short conversation, I re-wrote my story about myself. I now see the performative persona as much more integral; and the shy characteristics as a learned (and still useful) set of defensive skills.
This is an aspect of the ManyStory Approach I want to think more about, so as ever, I am interested in others’ experiences and perspectives. Are there risks in re-visiting the past? Where are the boundaries with therapy that one shouldn’t cross? and so on. So do leave a comment.