Part 2 Introduction – The Stories We Tell Ourselves

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (William Shakespeare, Hamlet)

Narrative Psychology is a branch of psychology and therapy that investigates the words we use to describe ourselves, our identity and our perspectives of the world around us – and how we construct the world around us by the words we use.

When I was working in Branding and Marketing, part of the job of constructing a brand that was unique and distinct from other products and brands in the market that were similar in nature, was to differentiate the identity using colours, images and words to describe the benefits and build a personality for the brand. In this way, we would develop an identity of a ‘friend’ as someone our ideal target consumer would interact with and want to represent who they are and become an integral part of their lives. 

As part of this process, we would create a brand footprint or pyramid, which were the words and phrases we would use to describe the distinct characteristics and personality that we wanted to convey within the branding.

We could easily spend hours and days debating the essence of each word’s meaning within the cultural context that it was used and understood to mean. For example: ‘cuddle’ conveys a different meaning to ‘cradle’, which is in turn different to ‘grasp’. Each conjures up a slightly different picture of how a mother may hold her young child or baby. 

From a psychological or therapeutic context, considering the words we use and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world we live in, speaks volumes about our state of mind and our worldview. This is part of the underlying principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Neurolinguistic Programming and Positive Psychology. 

Changing the words we use to describe things can substantially change our worldview. For example: if we constantly use terms such as ‘battling through the day’, we start to see our daily tasks as a wearisome fight. Changing the sentence to ‘charging through the day’, can give us the perspective of proactively achieving many tasks. 

In this section, we will be investigating several work-based philosophies that have evolved in the world of knowledge-work, in addition to those we have adopted since the first Lockdown in 2020. 

We will look at how the undercurrent of workplace norms and biases are often shifted and cemented by the words we use and phrases we offhandedly speak within an office environment and at home. 

We will have a look at how these words and the workplace narrative have impacted the expectations and responsibilities we have built up and feel rule our work and home lives.

We will then turn to look at how our responsibilities at home are being squeezed by our workplace expectations and responsibilities. We will analyse how the home demands, that require so much of our attention and time, are in constant conflict with our workplace expectations and how this layering of responsibility is exponentially increasing our ability to be both present and productive. 

Finally, in this section, we will look at how the trend of Autonomy, Flexibility and Job Control, although on the surface seem to release us into a sense of having a great ability to manage and juggle life more effectively, have a paradoxical effect of increasing the amount of time we work and our sense of obligation to our co-workers and employer. 

  • You can read more about Narrative Psychology in Michele L. Crossley’s book ‘Introducing Narrative Psychology – self, trauma and the construction of meaning’. Published by the Open University Press, Buckingham, England
Explore more in the chapters below.

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