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How Narrative Helps Us Cope

How Narrative Helps Us Cope

The Doctor, in his Eleventh incarnation, said: “We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?” Later, in his Twelfth, he said that memories become stories when we forget them. No matter how they may be described, our narratives are us. They are who we are.  Can those narratives be used to help us cope with the trials and tribulations each of us face every day?  According to Dr. Karen D. Shackleford, they can indeed.How Narratives Help Us Cope

When I read Dr. Shackleford’s article, I immediately liked how she related Amy Adams’ character to the character portrayed by Jodie Foster in the 1997 film, Contact.  (I was surprised to realize that this film is now almost 20 years old.)

She stated the following which I find quite profound:

Cultural stories like major films play a part in our collective imaginations. The writers, directors and actors help us imagine together a possible future and a current perspective on the world. As we absorb these cultural stories, we build a kind of social understanding – we form expectations about people based, in part, on the stories we publicly tell about people like them. As individuals, we also use stories to understand the experiences of others and, at the same time, to cope with our own challenges and interrogate our own values.

Question:  How many times have you used a film (or TV show) to laugh, grieve, express anger, or any other range of emotions?  

I couldn’t count or recall how many times I have done so – and the times would be many! One specific recollection goes back to June 25, 1999 – the final episode of the NBC soap opera, Another World.  Was it something that I watched as a child? Yes. Was it something that I still watched in 1999? Yes.  So, why did I find myself, as I watched the final scene and even in the minutes afterward, find myself crying uncontrollably?

The answer comes not from the TV show but from the hidden narrative told by only one person – me. When I was a child I watched Another World with two women, a grandmother and a godmother, who had both died in the early 1990s. In fact, this was one of my earliest recollections. A TV show’s cancellation years after their death helped me – perhaps – deal with that loss. (My grandfather also died within that same early 1990s timeframe.) Indeed, it helped to cope.

Dr. Shackleford goes on to say: At a time when so many films offer the same solution – kick butt until the world does it your way – this film shows us a refreshing alternative. We echoed this opinion in our review of the film in Episode 27.

 

 

For more information

To read the entirety of Dr. Shackleford’s article featured on Psychology Today, click here.


About Dr. Shackleford

Karen Dill-Shackleford, Ph.D., is a social psychologist who publishes in the field of media psychology, the relationship between what we watch on our screens and our everyday lives. Her areas of interest include the stories we tell about race and gender and social interactions and relationships in the media and how we make sense of ourselves and others through story. She is the author of How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Information and Entertainment Media in Everyday Life (2016) from Oxford University Press, the editor of the Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology (2013) and the co-author of Mad Men Unzipped: Fans on Sex, Love and the Sixties of TV (2015). She is a faculty member in the Media Psychology doctoral program at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, CA. (Courtesy of Psychology Today)

 

 

 

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