My narratives

Therapeutic exercise

My narratives

bad stories, exceptions, strengths and opportunities, optimism, mental resistance


Getting lost and giving up

„My life is pointless. It is full of contradictions and absurdities. I have no dreams. I do not believe that it is worth it. I cannot say what I care about. I have no strength. I cannot find the motivation to act. I do not know what to do. Is it too late.”



Being worse

„I am a worse version of the man. Others have the knowledge, skills and success – they are stronger and better. I am afraid – I take no risks – I can only make fool of myself. I choose only the simplest tasks – I say I like it – I want to hide who I really am so much.”



Anger and guilt

„I am a bad person – I have no control over my anger – I can only scream – everything annoys and bothers me – I deserve nothing – others go through hell with me – they need someone much better than me. It is ridiculous and pathetic to think I could be someone good and valuable. Others know what I am.”




„I am lonely. Others move away from me. They avoid me. They do not like. I lost even those with whom I used to be close friends. Who is the person they are all leaving?”




If you want to, you can now perform an exercise that reduces the strength of such negative stories about yourself and helps you liberate from their impact. Objectives of this method derive from the narrative therapy practised by Michel White and David Epston . You will need about 45 minutes of your time to start working on your own story. You can do this exercise alone or together with a close person that you trust and that has known you for a long time.


Such and similar stories sometimes lead you through your life. They hide right under your daily stress, fatigue and preoccupation with meaningless information. They come back to you when you are making plans, dreaming, trying to enjoy what happens to you here and now. They harshly mark the boundaries of a possible fate. They serve destiny up to the standards of their malice. Living in their shadow means torment and suffering.


Step1. My difficult story.

The first part of the exercise is difficult. You can continue for up to 7 minutes. If you extend the exercise, it will not produce the expected results: you will plunge into pessimism and hopelessness even more. Your first task is to write down several sentences of the story that bothers or limits you, associated with shame, guilt or suffering. Write one short story similar to the four quoted at the beginning. Do not write more! Remember: 7 minutes! Focusing on these few sentences for a longer time will be like losing your time on watching the starters instead of enjoying the main dish: you will leave hungry and angry. If you are doing the exercise with somebody else, ask him/her to check the time. Do not let him/her help you build the story or review it. At this stage, his/her biggest favour is to pay attention to the time.


Step 2. Exceptions – what events contradict my difficult history?

The second part of the exercise is to find exceptions, i.e. specific situations and facts that contradict the story told just a moment ago. It is not about comforting yourself, positive thinking or giving good advice and tips to yourself or others. The second task is only a reminder; it is about writing down and analysing facts and events that are difficult to reconcile with the story you have just written down. Try acting like a disciplined detective who investigates even the slightest inconsistencies or discrepancies. Do not twist the meaning of events. Do not cheat yourself. Write down only what you cannot explain using the bad story. When you recall such a situation, answer the two sets of questions:

Where were you when this happened? Were you there alone or was there anyone else with you? Who was that? When exactly happened? How long did it last? What happened before and right after?
What, in your opinion, does the situation you have written down tell about what is important for you in your life and what you care about? Could you name the values that you followed then? Could you describe the relationship between the main characters of the story? What knowledge, skills and abilities did you use in this situation? What was necessary to do this? What did you want to achieve in your life by taking such action? What does that say about your plans then? What person would take such an action? What does that say about you as a man that you have decided to take such an action?

If you are doing the exercise with somebody else, ask him/her for help now. Use his/her memory of the events and facts; ask more about those that do not fit the image that you have presented in the bad story; ask him/her to respond to the above questions and specify your beliefs, preferences, values, objectives, motives, knowledge and skills in his/her opinion. Write them down and analyse at least 5 facts, events and situation important for you!


Crisis and change

„7 years ago, I changed everything in my life for my wife and son. I took a risk of changing a job, place of residence, losing everything I had had, losing the respect of the people I had know and the sense of security. Over the next few years, I worked using the simplest activities and tasks not fitting my professional qualifications. I would go to work at 5:00 a.m. and commute more than 80 km almost every day. I did it for them. I think this shows that family is the most important thing for me; that I love them very much; that I can overcome a lot of obstacles for their welfare; that I provided them with as much happiness as I could; that I cannot be a completely bad person. I did not run away from a difficult situation; I did not give up; I did not break down”



Care for loved ones

„4 years ago, my father-in-law became very ill. He was 65 at the time. He was at risk of an extensive stroke. There was a great risk he would be unable to walk and would require a 24-hour care. Together with my wife, we invited him to our home; I made up my mind regarding all the related consequences. I knew that if his health deteriorated, my life and life of my family would change very much; I was afraid that it would be more difficult. My father-in-law lived with us for over a year; he gave us support and joy. When he felt better, he returned home. I was able to take a risk: I did not know he would recover. This shows that I care about others; that in situations of crisis, I am a real support for them. I do not think only of myself.”




„I graduated 4 years ago. I had to study, work and deal with my family responsibilities. Sometimes, it was really hard. For 3 years, I read, wrote and did complex calculations almost every evening. Many times, I had no strength; I was tired by the number of issues and tasks I had to do. I did not break down; I made it. I graduated on time. I think that this whole effort proves I can consistently strive for a goal; that, after all, I am very capable; I can quickly and effectively learn.”



Being needed

„For 5 years now, my everyday companion is Scarf, my beloved dog. He really needs me. He has nobody else in the world. If I was gone, no-one would care about him. Maybe it is funny, but, at the moment, he is the only sensible reason of my life. People have left – a beloved person has left me. However, I must live for Scarf; I will not leave him here at the mercy of fate; he needs me. I think that I care greatly for someone to need me; that I want whatever I do to have value for others. I cannot be such a recluse if I am pleased so much by being needed by others.”



For the daughter

„6 years ago, I helped my daughter buy a house. I have worked many years to be able to support her then. I could give up many things, sometimes wait for what I needed, share what I had, and did not think of myself. What I did shows that I love my child very much; that I am able to love; that there are people in my life whose happiness is more important than me; that I am a good person.”




„3 years ago, my son was going through a breakdown and crisis. I greatly sympathised with him. Despite his difficult situation, he often visited me. I could not help him financially. When he felt better, he said that conversations with me were really important for him; that I am one of a few people who believe in him; that I am someone who is not surprised by his strength, determination and ability to cope; that I help him think well of himself and have hope that everything will be all right. I will remember what he said forever.”


Step 3. My complex history.

The third part of the exercises is to write down a new short story. Try to use the expressions:

– Because this happened…,
– and in these situations I did…
– my bad story was too simple for me to treat it seriously
– my life is much more complex and …,
– I am cable of…
– I am able to…
– I can…


Step 4. Help others and end

The last fourth part of the exercise is the answer to two simple questions and a few conversations with important people:

Who would be the least surprised with your new history?

What would make these people least surprised?

If possible, meet them and let them talk about you: about their feelings and perceptions.

In a situation when you are struggling with a story that bothers, torments and limits you, repeat the search for and analysis of exceptions many times. At some point, your image of yourself will become more complex, and the bad story will turn out to be uncertain, partial and biased, and will cease to be the dominant and current version of you.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *