Therapeutic Thursday: Stories as Messages for the Psychic Self

Prepare yourself. This topic is one my favorite things.

Sounds “woo-woo” doesn’t it? “Messages for the Psychic Self” seems a little out there, but I promise, it’s a perspective you’ll start using all the time, as long as you enjoy a little literary metaphor. If you’re stuck taking everything literally, then you might not be interested, but it’s worth a try.

First, let me state the obvious so that we’re all on the same page about stories. We read stories as events and characters interacting, often in conflict developing toward some sort of resolution. That’s what we experience on the surface — beginning, middle, and The End.

Sometimes we go deeper into the layers of a story to analyze it for a deeper meaning. Sometimes writers layer other meanings on purpose (for example, Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz being an allegory for populism). Other times, readers find meanings that the authors never intended. The written word is a form of communication and sometimes the writer is unaware of the deeper interpretation of his or her words that someone with a different perspective might experience.

Okay, now that we’ve established what we’re taught in school, let’s go deeper….

Gaining messages for the psychic self is something I learned from Women Who Run With the Wolves by Dr. Christina Pinkola Estés and wish more people understood and used. It turns nearly every book into a personalized self-help book.

How is it done? Easy. Just take a moment and consider that all the characters in a story are not separate people, but separate parts of you. Your mind, your life, your relationships….

For example, if you’re reading a story about a family made up of a grandparent, a parent, and a child, imagine those three people as parts of you and ask yourself: What could they represent?

The answer might be different for each reader, but they could represent your past, present, and future; or your experience, authority, and innocence. As you read, how do these “characters” react to each other as the main conflict arises? It may give you insight into new ways to look at your own situation.

In my experience, many stories that seem over-the-top make more sense when read this way. Let’s take the classic story of Romeo and Juliet. Two teenagers from opposing families fall in love and tragically take their own lives. At first glance, most people probably can’t directly relate the more dramatic aspects to their own lives, but most Americans can probably appreciate the conflict of maintaining a work-life balance.

Imagine that the Capulets represent your professional life and the Montagues represent your personal life. Every day, there are conflicts, and yet, you truly love both — and secretly, your professional self needs the relaxation of home and your personal self needs the autonomy of work. If you side with the Montagues, you suffer; if you side with the Capulets, you suffer. If you bring work home or home to work, you suffer. Many Americans find themselves in this dilemma every day…and what do we know from the fates of Romeo and Juliet? At some point, there will be a mistake on both sides, and you’ll be left with a downfall on both sides. Suddenly, the opening words of the play, “Two houses, both alike in dignity,” means more than a simple setting of the stage.

It takes some practice to start reading this way, but you’ll find it isn’t unnatural; in fact, throughout history, these kinds of methods were the main way people approached stories, plays, proverbs, fables, fairytales, poetry, myths, etc. Only in more recent centuries have we begun to read stories more literally, and we seem to be more focused on finding a shared consensus about the overall meaning rather than understanding the benefits of using stories as individual, and very personal, reflection to receive needed messages from the psychic self.

So next time you need some cheap therapy, pick up a book or watch a movie — and imagine all of it is you.

One thought on “Therapeutic Thursday: Stories as Messages for the Psychic Self

  • September 21, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Interesting perspective! You are so creative. Seriously, I would’ve never thought to look at Romeo & Juliet like that.


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