I am delighted to have Tiffany Kim guest post for me today. I met Tiffany through mutual friends this past fall and when we were finally able to meet for lunch, despite age difference, it was instant friendship. After a conversation on a recent post we had a discussion on the importance of stories. It was at that time that I asked her if she would be willing to write a post. I am grateful that she said yes! Tiffany is a wife, friend, world traveler, foodie, writer, researcher (collector of stories), and nurse. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts and offers this post on stories.
We seem to have no other way of describing “lived time” save in the form of a narrative.–Jerome Bruner
I’ve always loved stories. I love hearing stories, I love making new stories and I love sharing them later. Ask me sometime about when I tried San Pedro, a psychedelic cactus brew, with a Shaman in the Peruvian Andes. Or my moonshine experience in Appalachia – it involved a fat pony, a $20 bill and a rock. But there are also some stories that I am tempted to try and forget. We all have them and these narratives of suffering, perhaps more than the others, can come to define what we believe about our world and ourselves. Yet, these are the very stories that we do not share with each other.
I recently finished my PhD in Nursing at The University of Pennsylvania. While I was there, I set out to study the problem of sexual violence among women in transition. More specifically, I looked at intimate partner sexual violence (also known as marital rape), in a group of Mexican immigrant women living in Philadelphia. I wanted to understand these women’s experiences of sexual violence in the context of their transition and movement across borders. No one else had ever done a study quite like this, and I knew that I would need to think carefully about how I might go about constructing such a dissertation. In the end, I decided to use a method called Narrative Analysis, a qualitative research method that focuses on the ways people make and use stories to interpret their world. I chose this method, because I was not so much interested in the historical facts of the stories, but rather the meanings women ascribed to them. In essence, why someone tells a story and how that person chooses to tell it, can be as important as the story itself.
My choice of dissertation topic mean that I would have the honor of bearing witness to many women’s amazing stories of unimaginable trauma, survival and courage. I found that the content of many women’s stories were similar – childhood sexual abuse, dating violence, abusive marriages, the hardships of immigrant life, poverty and the importance of family and children. Although suffering was clearly the major theme throughout all of their stories, I found it fascinating that the women chose to tell me about their suffering in strikingly different ways. Even though they had all experienced remarkably similar abuse, women structured their narratives quite differently. Why did some women tell me about continuing to endure through a lifetime of suffering with little hope for the future, while others told me about leaving that suffering behind? (If I knew the answer to this I’d immediately start selling self-help books and make a million dollars.) But it’s got me to thinking – how do I organize and tell my own stories of suffering?
The way we choose to organize our stories speaks volumes about our current mental health and our own healing. And while we can’t change the actual events in our past, is it possible for us to reconsider the meanings we’ve ascribed to them? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know that stories are important. Fully exploring our own narratives first requires that we share them with each other. Once a story is told in the presence of another person, it’s amazing how it can morph and change – entire plots, themes and characters that were previously overlooked can come into the light. So, let’s grab some coffee (or chai) and sit down for a bit. I know we both have some stories to share…
And, if you’d like to read more about the women I interviewed, you can click here for a link to my dissertation:
Join the discussion on stories through the comment section!
- The Power of the Narrative (communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com)