The Lion and The Monster: Externalising Anxiety

A key principle in Narrative Therapy is that a problem is the problem, not the person. This little sentence has a big influence on how we see ourselves in relation to the problem we are facing. People can separate themselves from the problem and therefore see the problem as an external entity, which implies possibilities – an alternative truth of identity. One way we facilitate this often-dramatic change of thought is through externalization conversations: a conversation about the problem as separate to the person. The problem is described by the person, objectified and stories are told about how and when this problem shows itself in their life, the affect that has on their life and what they think about that (Statement of Position).

Donna was introduced to me as someone who is anxious. This description implies anxiety is part of Donna – an identity ‘truth’ and a sense of ‘fixed identity’.

When I met Donna I asked her what being at the session was like for her and she replied “I am feeling really anxious”. Together, we learned a lot about this anxiety: that it was currently ‘all over’ her and with her every minute of the day. I was curious about this so-called anxiety and so asked more externalizing questions which led to Donna coming up the name “The Monster” for this uninvited intruder. Our conversation included ways in which The Monster was impacting on Donna’s life and Donna made a clear position statement that this was not ok with her.

Before this conversation, Donna’s dominant story was that she is a very anxious person who doesn’t like to leave her house, is scared of people and does not want to be noticed.  So I was curious then and asked Donna “So, with The Monster having so much control and influence in your life – how is it that you are here? I first met you at the group information session and now you are here again – out of your home, in a small space with someone you don’t know. How has this happened?”

We then discussed what actions Donna took DESPITE The Monster. We discovered The Monster was not the ONLY influential character in the room.  Donna was not comfortable in talking about ‘herself’ in terms of being strong, determined or brave – so again we used externalization techniques. My curiosity helped me discover that Donna loves animals and her favourite is the lion. We discussed the characteristics of the lion and how perhaps there was also a lion in the room right now! So now, we had an ‘alternative story’ to the ‘dominant story’ which gave Donna a sense of hope that change is possible – and that she had already started that change (Unique Outcome)

Donna’s purpose in making this digital story was to:

  1. Reflect on the current role Anxiety plays in her life and what she plans on doing about it (increasing her own understandings around anxiety);
  2. Create a story to articulate these reflections;
  3. Share it with those close to her, those also living with anxiety in their lives, and with the general public to raise awareness.

Donna not only continued to leave her house and come to the five sessions but also came to the public screening event and agreed to have photos taken (another achievement!). She spoke with people who wanted to express their gratitude and respect to Donna for making and sharing her story.

Donna continues to challenge The Monster and, in the words of her support person, “Donna’s Lion power continues to rise”.

If you would like to watch more stories from this and other Engaging Solutions Digital Storytelling Workshops head over to Watch Stories.

Jennifer Thompson


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