Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Analytic Narrative

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 21, 2015

The mind is generated by and organized according to narratives, Roy Schaefer proposed. We tell ourselves stories about ourselves in order to have a sense of cohesion, a sense of self, and a sense of continuity. The fluidity of this narrative is often a sign of mental health. The more rigidly a person adheres to one narrative of himself,  the more difficulty that person has adapting and coping with the changing tides of life’s stressors.

Money, an interesting name for a person obsessed with financial sucess,  (his birth name was Monroe, but he goes by Money) age fifty-six, comes to mind. He is the youngest of two children, growing up in affluence, surrounded by very financially and educationally successful relatives. Money too has achieved a modicum of success. He received a degree in Business Administration and he works as a mid-level executive. However, by his narrative he is the “black sheep” of his family, since his house is only of modest size, and he feels limited about the types of vacations he can take with his family. Money’s narrative is that he is not “as good” as his sister, his parents or his cousins. He describes himself as a “blob”. As Money and I begin to explore his meaning of the word “blob” we come to see that Money’s competitive family, are by his account, all “blobs,” meaning that no one has created a life that feels meaningful, but rather his family dynamics have given birth to lives which feel competitive and empty. These “blobs” as Money described were shapeless, formless and menacing experiences, with little feeling of significant impact on the world. Together, Money and I came up with a modified narrative where he was no longer the “black sheep,” but he was yet another family member who feels inferior in a world which seemed to offer little meaning. It was only through feeling more successful than his relatives that he thought meaning could be obtained, but through our work together, he has come to see that that narrative is flawed, and that he needs to create a new narrative where he acts to create meaning and not “superiority”.

Changing, or expanding our narrative, is what Roy Schaefer taught us is therapeutic action. In other words, deeper self-understanding, with a continual search for a broader narrative, is how we can help our patients and ourselves live in a world with satisfaction and fulfillment; to love and work, as Freud would say.

2 Responses to “Analytic Narrative”

  1. Shelly said

    So in essence, you are saying that what we believe about our own life stories, from childhood through adulthood, is constantly changing, and the acceptance of these stories is the key to mental health. The refusal of acceptance, or the acceptance of a narrative which is misguided, can have a negative impact on the way one lives ones life and interacts with others. How can you show someone a new narrative of they won’t or refuse to see it?

    • Yes, that is the essence of what I am saying.

      You can’t help someone see a new narrative if they are resistant, or closed-minded, to that notion. Hence the adage that the therapist has strike when the iron is hot, that is when the patient is open to a new way of seeing their world, which is most often during a traumatic, and hence help-seeking time in their life.

      Also, as I hope to convery, life stories evolve, and being able to adapt to new stories, both retrospectively, and with new adventures woven in, allow for mental health.

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