1 May 2020

The power of storytelling to create meaning and find hope

Insights

Author: Sacha Kirk, Co-Founder & CMO at Lawcadia

In my most recent post I discussed the power of multiple losses and the natural grief response to what we are experiencing during the pandemic. (Note, as well as being a marketing strategist and co-founder of legal tech company Lawcadia, I have a passion for counselling in the area of grief and loss and as well as post-graduate qualifications I also volunteered for a number of years at a community hospice).

In this article I want to unravel the importance of storytelling and meaning-making as a strategy for surviving the stress and upheaval created by the pandemic and coming out the other side stronger and purposeful.

Let me start by sharing my own personal story from the Global Financial Crisis and how those experience influenced my life. In March 2009 I was living in London, 8.5 months pregnant and proud owner of a lovely flat purchased at the peak of the property market. By the end of the month my husband had lost his job, along with our sponsored working visa, I had just given birth to a new-born baby and had to face the reality of leaving the country, unemployed and (temporarily) without a home. What got me through the stressors of the next 6-12 months was family and friends who opened their homes to us as well as providing emotional support, and also taking it a day at a time.

11 years later I look back at those experiences and I would not trade them with anyone as they have influenced many decisions and choices and view of the world. From a career perspective the experience of two redundancies and future economic uncertainty was a significant catalyst to starting our own business and led to the founding of Lawcadia. From a personal perspective it has given me a unique appreciation of family, stability, a home and how enough financial security can be balanced against a relatively frugal life (I drive a VERY old Ford Territory and my children go to a wonderful state school). If I hadn’t gone through the GFC experience my life choices would be vastly different.

The economic (and health) crisis that we are currently experiencing is impacting ourselves, our friends, colleagues, and community in many different ways and coping with the stress, change and uncertainty is a challenge for everyone. Interestingly research has shown that “undesirable life events often have positive effects on people’s lives and, in some instances, are turning points transforming their sense of identity or purpose”(1). I encourage each of you to look for the opportunity to find meaning, and to this end I can share a couple of constructive strategies that can help you be more resilient, hold on to hope and come out the other side stronger.

The power of narrative

Storytelling has long been a powerful way of creating meaning and whether you realise it or not, our minds are always creating stories as a way of integrating life events, past traumas and new experiences. Creating stories, or narratives, is a fantastic way to find meaning, release emotions and help to incorporate changes of self-identity and healing. Accounting the events to yourself and, ideally, to others, can help you discover new meaning and to experience hope.

Other than talking to friends or a counsellor, one of the best ways to introduce storytelling into our own daily life is to write, whether it be in a journal or a blog.

Give it a go – you might find it to be quite therapeutic!

In the context of the workplace, talk with your colleagues, communicate, share stories of the mundane and unexpected. Look for the opportunity to ‘connect the dots’, in other words, look for the possibilities of meaning from this new experience we find ourselves in.

The power of reflection

Over the next few weeks take the time to consider and reflect on potential changes in the way you view life now and how this has impacted your:

  • priorities (eg what is important in your life)
  • goals (eg do you need to let go of some goals or create new ones)
  • view of self (eg has your self-image changed in a positive way)

If possible, jot some of this down in a journal, and revisit in a month or two to see what, if anything, has changed.

The power of hope

In “Man’s Search for Meaning”, arguably one of the most influential books of the 20th century, Viktor Frankl shares his experiences surviving the concentration camps. He concludes that meaning can be found in every moment of living, even when faced with suffering we have freedom of choice and having hope for the future is our powerful inner resource.

Hope can be nurtured, so even if right now you (or someone near to you) may feel without hope, there are a few strategies that can help:

  • appreciate the most mundane part of your day (eg a walk in nature, sitting in a garden, the sun on your skin, the taste of freshly brewed coffee)
  • even though there is a lot outside of our control, learn to identify the moments of choice, those things that you can control
  • accept those things that cannot be changed or controlled
  • construct a list of things that you are grateful for in your day, ideally spend 5 minutes everyday day listing out at least 3 things that you are grateful for.

Coming through stronger

Today a mentor shared with me the concept of the Stockdale Paradox which you can read more about here. Essentially the paradox is that to survive difficult situations, such as the current crisis, you must balance optimism and faith that you will prevail with the realities of situation.

In other words, hope for the best, maintain that hope, whilst also acknowledging the reality and preparing for the worst.

This is not easy and something I am going to explore in more detail next week.

 

Resources:

  1. Nancy Hooyman & Betty Kramer, Living Through Loss: Interventions Across the Lifespan, 2006
  2. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 1946

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