My family is Turkish and I was born in Istanbul in 1979. Since then we’ve moved to Izmir, where my brother was born in 1981, then to the suburbs of Washington, DC in the summer of 1989 when Dad got a job with the Voice of America, the government radio. In 2003 I moved to Istanbul and then at the end of December 2010 I joined my brother in Sydney, where he’d been residing for a few years.
Our household was never harmonious and tension often hung in the air. Mum was an artist who didn’t have an outlet outside of the home. I believe her drive to establish her domain was a contributing factor to her arguments with Dad. She often escalated conflicts and there was no resolution as both sides turned them into personal attacks. Both Dad and Mum wanted us, the children, to choose sides. My brother did not like to get caught up in the middle and he often stayed with friends starting in his teen years.
I was estranged from both Mum and Dad for 13 years before I made the decision to establish a functional relationship with my brother and my parents. I realised that this process involved three elements of narrative therapy – externalisation, documentation and accountability.
The catalyst for my self-therapy was having children of my own, now four and two years of age. I wanted to become conscious of the negative behaviours I’d picked up from my upbringing in order to establish a healthy household culture to support the growth of all its members.
“I often think about how there are many parallels between effective therapeutic skills and skills of literary merit.” – Michael White
I’m a memoir writer who has taken courses on story structure. Almost all stories begin with a hero who feels out of sync with the world. Then the hero sets off on a journey and encounters mentors, allies and enemies. My journey was getting in contact with Mum, Dad and my brother on a regular basis using social media and video chat technology. They all became my mentors, allies and enemies. In the end, the hero returns to the ordinary world with a superpower that gives her an edge. What I came to understand as I bonded and deepened my relationship with my family is that like me, they are all creative, in search of a deeper meaning of life, have narcissistic tendencies, can often get stuck in their ways and when treated with understanding are generous in their own ways. The understanding they seek is often as simple as being listened to with full presence.
“Externalizing conversations in which the problem becomes the problem, not the person, can be considered counter-practices to those that objectify people’s identities. Externalizing conversations employ practices of objectification of the problem against cultural practices of objectification of people” (White, 2007, 26).
In Turkey, we have a saying for people who meddle in other people’s lives. We call them ‘parsley’. The reason is, that a sprig of parsley is often thrown as garnish on every dish and diners don’t appreciate it and it ends up in the rubbish. I was called ‘parsley’ by Mum who didn’t appreciate my efforts to understand her side of the family.
I externalised the problem. Parsley was the symbol for my excessive creative energy. Also, parsley is delicious when used in the right dishes like tabouleh salad and offers health benefits. As in the example of writing down recipes that called for parsley, I wrote down the places that called for my creativity.
The places where I can throw my energy are this blog, my work as a volunteer biography writer for palliative care patients and a third is my book “The Wisdom of Gifts”.
I mentioned that Mum was an artist. Dad is also highly intelligent and creative. He gave up on his dream of becoming a film director to provide stability for his family. Unfortunately, he tried to direct my life, trying to choose my profession and suitors for me. I too find that I try to control other people’s lives. I tell myself I’m only trying to help when I try to get my partner to join my gym, for example. He rightfully points out that I’m judging him as inferior when I try to run his life.
A challenge to overcome in setting up regular contact was the geographical barriers. Mum is in Istanbul and Dad in DC, two very different times zones to Sydney where my brother and I reside. With Mum, we set up a daily teatime at 4 PM in Sydney which is breakfast time for her. Through WhatsApp, we could have video chats and my daughters would have virtual tea parties with their grandmother. I would take screenshots to document.
For Dad, we determined that Wednesday mornings in Sydney, Tuesday evenings for him, were optimal as he had Wednesdays off from work. He would get a chance to see his granddaughters on video calls. Again, our contact was documented to show his qualities as an attentive grandfather.
I would occasionally share my writing work and as expected, Dad would ignore it, Mum wouldn’t understand it and my brother would be overly critical.
Throughout this process, I used meditation and journaling to identify the difficult emotions that arose within me.
These days my family continues to ignore the creative work I do. I recently made the decision to have less contact as their rejection of their own creative gifts started blocking me as well and I was starting to become depressed.
Going forward, I would like to learn more about using filmmaking to document lives and further explore the benefits of narrative therapy in family counselling.
Over to you…
What are some creative ways you can use narrative practice to build better relationships in your own life?