Working with the grand narrative

The grand narrative is the big story or that which underlies the subplots at any moment in time.

Grand narratives can apply to any system from the global world - the workplace, the family, the individual. For example, in popular culture there is currently a grand narrative of superheroes, possibly due to the context of the global financial crisis.

From an individual perspective, the grand narrative can influence thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Imagine beads on thread - the thoughts, the feelings and the behaviours are the beads. The grand narrative is the thread. The beads can be tightly packed making it difficult to see the thread. When a person decides to process distressing emotions and thoughts it is the beads that are firstly identified and being processed. It can be difficult to change the beads without recognising the grand narrative. The grand narrative gradually shows itself in repetition.

Example: Client A feels ‘invisible’ at home, as though he or she ‘does not exist’. This impacts on his/her thoughts - unloved, unwanted and not needed.

At work client A decides not to go for a promotion because his/her ‘work does not get noticed anyway'. This gives thoughts of feeling undervalued, unworthy and undeserving or that they are not as good as their colleagues.

In the wider family, client A feels ‘unnoticed’ as though he or she is ‘talking to a brick wall’ and ‘not given attention’ compared to siblings.

Client A’s feelings, thoughts and behaviours are the ‘beads’. There will be a lot more ‘beads’ but to make the grand narrative obvious, I have put the beads that might be repeated. From this repetition and by teasing apart the beads, a grand narrative of 'feeling invisible’ or ‘unnoticed’ becomes apparent.

Once the grand narrative becomes apparent, it is the lightbulb or 'Aha!' moment. It can be enough to recognise the grand narrative. The person can then know what is colouring their perspective, world view and emotions. That, or perhaps the grand narrative can be explored. How long has it existed? What people or events have contributed to the creation of this narrative? Is it a long standing narrative or the result of a life change/stage?

What if the grand narrative is removed? What happens to the thread? Do all the beads fall apart in chaos? These fears are why even when a narrative is recognised, people stay attached to them. Changes to grand narratives happen slowly and gradually. Life will not descend into chaos. Within therapy, the therapist is there to help in containing the beads.

There are two possibilities depending on life experience and a myriad of factors. In some cases, there may be other threads replacing the first grand narrative. Alternatively, a new narrative can slowly be woven while the previous one gradually diminishes.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Alsager, Cheshire, ST7
Written by Jacqueline Karaca, M.Sc. Hons Counselling Psych; B.Sc.Hons Psychology MBACP Reg
Alsager, Cheshire, ST7

Jacquie Karaca is a psychotherapist and author.

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