Unearthing and Retelling the Stories that Bind Us
Decades of research have shown that most cohesive families communicate effectively. But talking doesn’t mean simply talking through problems, it also means telling a positive story about yourself, or overcoming adversity, which demonstrates your values and core identity. The stories often need to be created, refined, recorded and retold – but taking the time to do this may increase the odds that your family will thrive for generations to come.
Dr. Marshall P. Duke, a psychologist at Emory University, has been at the center of most of the discoveries about the importance of family stories.
Researchers found that every family has a unifying narrative, and those generally take one of three shapes. First, there’s the “ascending” family narrative that goes something like this: “Son, when we came to this country, we had nothing. Our family worked hard, we opened a store. Your grandfather went to high school, your father went to college, and now you…”
Second is the “descending family narrative” which goes: “Sweetheart, we used to have it all. Then we lost everything.”The third narrative is the most healthful one, which Duke calls the “oscillating” family narrative: “Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business, your grandfather was a pillar of the community, your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we’ve also had setbacks. Your uncle was once arrested, we had a house burn down, you father lost his job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together.”
Types of Family Stories – the 7 basic plots
Dr. Duke and a colleague went on to create a 20 question test, called the Do You Know Scale, to test their hunch that children who knew more about their families tended to do better when they face challenges. He says that through family stories, children develop a sense of what he calls the “multi-generational self” and the personal strength and moral guidance that comes with that. So when something challenging happens, they can call on that knowledge to pull through.
Do You Know Scale – the 20 questions