Mind the gaps when making links

Updated: Jul 29

When we talk seriously to each other our conversations soon turn to sharing stories and we do something with stories that delights us. We make links. We see patterns. If we don't think we have got the thread we ask questions. Where are you going with this? We offer our own perspectives and in the process the story telling becomes more conversational. This conversational quality of story sharing is important. It opens a space for reconsolidation of the story and two working memories are in joint action. This conversational working memory space is extended even more with a map of the key words of the story on paper between us.

When we say we like a good story we might just as well say we like a good pattern. We like to meet our deep need for narrative coherence and see all the links in the chain of a story connect. We like loopy. Part of the dramatic art of story telling is to have twists and turns in the chain of links. It is almost as we the participants in a story are being teased into fearing there wont be a plot or tidy ending. The loop wont loop. This is where the art of story telling in fiction differs from the art of talking through stories in therapy to help and to heal. In the context of therapy and counselling making links means also meeting gaps. The enthusiasm loopiness and smoothly storying the story should be regarded with suspicion. Our more troublesome and painful life stories may have missing links or gaps. Or we cannot bring ourselves to make the links that are calling out to us. Making links in therapy always means meeting gaps. This is made clearer when telling stories together is assisted by pen and paper to keep track of the key words. We can leave question marks or make a blank space as the sign of something not yet voiced or understood. The gaps point to what Donnel Stern calls unformulated experience and I would like to call unstoried memories.

You might have read the word unstoried in the preceding sentence as unstored and there is a connection in the sense that unstoried means not stored and not mapped or recorded in some organised form. In therapeutic story telling conversations the gaps are as important as the links. The big gaps in our stories don't get the eureka shout out that the big links get. in moving between picture and detail, past and present, attention to inner life and life with others.

Making a link means tolerating the awareness of knowing that A led to B. Noticing and naming a gap means tolerating not knowing if there is another link or story between A and B. To make sense of gap we need to avoid rushing to closure around one story of explanation or another. It is what for me is storying the story too quickly. We do this when we want to avoid embarrassment, cricisim, and shame we close the story prematurely or in a superficial manner of covering up.

Links give us leverage -something to go on. We help each other link the links. It gives us confidence to untangle the tangled memories and see patterns. Like untying knots and unravelling wires and cables, it takes time, co operation and patience. In the process we discover gaps and ties that are broken. We need to notice the gaps and give attention to the process of unravelling and straightening. The gaps may appear and then vanish. We might want things to add up but we need to notice when they don't. Gaps are dynamic. they can be invisible and easily bypassed. Gaps are where links lie ready to be made or circled round carefully and respectfully with a promise to return now and then with compassion and curiosity.

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