Telling your story is a powerful act. To bare your soul, to tell someone something you have never shared with anyone else can be empowering and therapeutic. This was well known throughout history where this ancient tradition of storytelling, so rich and rife in all cultures, may have been the earliest form of psychotherapy. Of course Ireland has had a long tradition of storytelling through the seanchaí, ‘a bearer of old lore’ and societies throughout the world still practice this.
From a personal point of view the act of telling my story is an emotional one, reminding me of what I have undergone in the journey to arrive at this place and this time in my life. Over the course of the early part of my transition I had a number of sessions with psychotherapists and each time found the experience beneficial. Telling my story always leaves me drained yet exhilarated, exhausted yet energised. It helps me and others to better understand the struggles during my life, helps the audience (which can consist of 1 or 100) to view situations similar to their own through a different lens. Noted author and folklore scholar Elaine Lawless says ‘… this process provides new avenues for understanding and identity formation. Language is utilised to bear witness to their lives.’ Each time I tell my story is different as I skip over aspects which at the time seem unimportant, only to be asked at the Q&A afterwards to clarify or fill in the gaps. It never gets boring for me – and hopefully never for the audience!
In the past few years in Ireland we have had two important referenda, on Marriage Equality in 2015 (giving the equal right to marry to the lesbian, gay and bisexual community) and, in 2018, a vote to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution which severely limited a person’s right to abortion. Both of these referenda passed, by a (roughly) 2:1 majority, signifying Ireland’s shift towards a more progressive and accepting society. Without a doubt the personal story, told by those thousands of campaigners knocking on doors after trudging through housing estates and country roads for months on end proved to be the difference. In south Dublin where I canvassed, every second door I knocked on seemed to be answered an elderly grandmother whose granddaughter/grandson/daughter or son was in a happy, same sex relationship and wanted to marry their partner. The hope, joy and understanding in their faces as I told them of my wife and our same-sex relationship of 30 years was wonderful to see. And that was only a 2 minute story told on the doorsteps. Yet every time it brought the same reaction – and usually an invitation to tea and cakes, sometimes even dinner, as they wanted more. But we had to move on to the next house, the next conversation and to more stories, all so similar and so vitally important and personal.
Not all the stories I or my canvassing colleagues and friends told elicited a positive response however. In between those lovely, positive and heart-warming conversations were hurtful, dismissive and upsetting encounters with sometimes aggressive people who could not accept that Ireland was changing. Multiple times my male colleagues would return from a session canvassing in tears, having bared their souls to someone only to be called paedophiles or worse.
In therapy, one of the main areas of work for Under the Rainbow, telling your story is an integral part of the psychological healing process. Our therapists listen as the clients tell their stories and may prompt gently, aiding the client to come to terms with and address their issues. Stories bypass the shredding effects of over-analysing and conscious reasoning and the messages and feelings which emerge from their telling can aid the therapist in their work. From our work with hundreds of clients we have the experience to help our clients find their voice and their true selfs. The story is vital to this process.
So continue the tradition of the seanchaí and tell your story. It will do you good – and it might even help others.
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