Step Out of Your Story
Kim Schneiderman : Using Dialogue to Mine Your Story and Transform Your Character

Step Out of Your Story

Using Dialogue to Mine Your Story and Transform Your Character

By Kim Schneiderman | 6/27/15

Authors and psychotherapists both use dialogue as a means of probing deeper into the human psyche. Through conversation, the threads of an entrenched story can be pulled apart, untangled, and spun into something entirely new. Dialogues, after all, reveal character. They reflect our beliefs, the way we think, our upbringing, and other personal nuances. They can also reveal secrets and our true feelings about relationships, both with ourselves and others. In this regard, they are a great tool for exposing the source of conflicts and identifying the places where resolution can become possible.

In therapy sessions, plays, films, and our everyday human interactions, dialogues are usually spoken between two people. Yet, we experience dialogue inside our heads, too, as various competing internal voices reflect different aspects of ourselves. And while these debates are really monologues, since we are only speaking with ourselves, they tend to have an undeniable conversational quality. That doesn’t make us crazy; rather, it makes us human. Naturally and unconsciously, we begin internalizing these voices in early childhood from parents, siblings, teachers, and friends. Think of it this way: a child can only mimic what he hears spoken. Eventually, these internalized voices are assimilated into a template or gestalt of the self.

The Omniscient Narrator

This template of voices is larger than the sum of its parts. Moderating all these voices is our inner omniscient narrator, the name I use to describe the quiet still voice that senses the big picture and whispers our truths. When accessed through meditation, prayer, or, for our purposes, through writing, this inner narrator has an uncanny ability to sift through all the competing voices to mine the more expansive, authentic narratives buried in our subconscious. Because it can transcend our baser, egocentric childlike self or any of the internalized critical voices that don’t really belong to us, we might also refer to it as the higher self. And because it is omniscient and can access this expanded perspective, it is able to both challenge and understand our undermining voices — so that, even when these voices speak to us, demanding attention, we are no longer ruled by them.

Use Your Imagination

Writing these dialogues takes a leap of imagination. In them, you personify attitudes, feelings, and fears in a stream-of-consciousness way; you give these traits a voice and perspective. As such, these exercises require courage, creativity, and a willingness to play. The most constructive dialogues occur when we suspend our egos and our judgments about what is being said and, instead, assume a posture of curiosity and inquisitiveness. What does our omniscient inner narrator have to teach us? Where is there room for growth? What might that look like? Allow yourself to be surprised.

Since this type of internal dialogue is new to many people, I provide some guiding questions below to get your conversation started, along with examples of what these conversations can look like. These are just guidelines; let your own conversations flow in whatever way you imagine.

Dialoguing with Vulnerabilities Exercise

Select [a vulnerability that relates to a central conflict or a primary antagonist], and craft a dialogue between the protagonist and the vulnerability.

Use the following questions to start or guide your conversation, but feel free to ask other questions that come to you:

  1. Where do you come from?
  2. Why do you continue to haunt me?
  3. What do you want from me?
  4. How can I accept your presence with love and compassion without giving you power and control over my life?

Example #1: Fear

Protagonist: Fear, I know you well. Whenever I’m on the brink of making serious changes in my life, you show up to try and convince me of all the things that could go wrong. What do you want from me?

Fear: I’m just trying to protect you. I don’t want you to get hurt.

Protagonist: I appreciate your concern for my well-being, but I need you to cut me some slack so that I can take the steps I need to grow and develop confidence and faith in the process. I may make mistakes, but I will learn from them.

Fear: But what if you get hurt when you make those mistakes? And what if those mistakes can’t be undone? You’re not getting any younger. If you listen to me, and stay in your comfort zone, you won’t have to face too many uncertainties or feel regret later if you fail to achieve your goals or your dreams.

Protagonist: That’s bullsh*t. Life is full of uncertainty, whether I try new things or stick to my security blanket. Disease, natural disasters — all kinds of things happen that I can’t control. As for regrets, what about regretting not trying? What’s the point of having a goal or a dream if you’re too afraid to put one foot in front of the other? Stop making me second-guess myself. Just leave me alone.

Fear: But if I don’t do my job, and you don’t succeed in your efforts, you may fall apart, as you’ve done before. And then you will question yourself, “Why did I do this?”

Protagonist: Fear, ah, I get it now. You’re not trying to hurt me. You care about my safety. However, I think you underestimate me. I’m not the same person I used to be. I’ve overcome obstacles I never thought I could endure. I’m much stronger, and I value the lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes, even when they have been painful. So if you must do your job, use some discretion. Show up when I’m about to do something really dumb — like stay up too late when I have an important early-morning meeting or let lust get the best of me. But you’re not the boss of me, and I’m stronger than you know.

Example #2: Craving

Protagonist: Craving, why are you so all-consuming sometimes? You follow me around, hounding me every second like a little child — sugar, sugar, we want sugar. Why can’t you leave me alone for once?

Craving: My job is to make you believe that you’ll die if you don’t give in to me. And I can be very convincing. If you feel empty inside, eat ice cream and you’ll feel better. If you’re bored, chocolate is always a good pick-me-up. I have mastered the art of temptation. Is it my fault that you’re not strong enough to resist?

Protagonist: Stop taunting me. I have the ultimate power, not you. You are a fleeting inclination, a temptress, a trickster who promises immediate gratification only to leave me full of shame and regret. I unmask you, see you for what you are, and let you pass, without succumbing.

Craving: Rats, foiled again! I’ll get you next time.

Protagonist: Yeah, we’ll see about that. I’m cutting carbs. Ha, ha!

Kim SchneidermanExcerpted from the book Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life ©2015 by Kim Schneiderman. Published with permission of NewWorldLibrary.com.

Kim Schneiderman Kim Schneiderman, LCSW, MSW, is the author of Step Out of Your Story. She counsels in private practice and guest lecturers at venues including New York University. She also writes a biweekly advice column for Metro Newspapers and blogs for Psychology Today. Visit her online at www.stepoutofyourstory.com.
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