Truth and metaphor

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During a psychotherapy, patients spend a lot of time telling their story, giving meaning to what they are experiencing, what they have experienced, what they would like to live. This research is necessary because the human being is made this way, he needs to be able to explain his life in a coherent way and to give himself a perspective.

Much of the therapeutic work can be done mainly around the matter of origin. The answers concern the narrative of the different generations that preceded us, the stories around our birth and, of course, the significant events of our childhood and adolescence. We need to recap these passages. Some say: “In our family all women are strong” or “My grandfather fell in love with my grandmother when she was 15, they met at the circumcision party of my paternal uncle’s son. They lived far from each other, but my grandfather went to look for my grandmother in his village to marry her and meet all the requirements of the dowry required by her family and they lived together for more than sixty years” or again “at our house, everyone walks with their heads held high”.

Behind these formulas, a behavior is required or ways of thinking directed at those who want to be part of the family are indicated: to be a strong woman, even stronger than men, to believe that happy and loyal love is possible, to live up to of every situation! Often therapeutic work makes it possible to lighten these family contracts by keeping the positive part and freeing them from the inhibition component. Sometimes, the mixing of ages, historical events greatly complicate the parameters of reference and therapeutic work will have to create personal myths.

We need narratives about our birth and it is surprising to see how they are full of inventiveness: “I was born as a cannonball and I wondered if I ever fell out of bed” or “I was born with Caesarean section, I didn’t have to do the effort to be born carrying the pain with me” or “my father was in the army, my mother was alone, had to walk to the hospital to give me birth”. It is rare that nothing is known about one’s birth, that there is not a serious or light anecdote that marks the arrival of a child.

But should we believe that the “stories” of our lives are actual reality?

Aren’t these personal myths much more truthful than the shaman’s song? Furthermore, if we can be sure that the woman who gives birth believes in the power of the shaman, we are not at all sure that she truly believes that supernatural beings are shaking and fighting a bitter battle in her vagina.

Alongside personal myths, there are also “woven” myths so to speak, by an entire community that, however, affect the individual. A story told by my grandmother can leave a doubt in the minds of readers, yet people believed it.

In a tribe in central Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, men killed each other because of women, because the woman had the power to have sex with whomever she wanted. Because of jealousy, the king’s son was killed by his rival so the king made the decision to gather all the men and put an end to the domination of the woman.

A law was then promulgated: every woman will have only one man, the one who will have relations with two men will be buried alive and her spirit will remain in the village like a sentinel to report those women who will later commit the same acts. All those women who had slept with more men, within 48 hours were handed over to the sovereign and buried alive. Legend has it that from that moment all women who commit adultery die, killed by the spirits of buried women alive. To current date, all women who commit adultery die: it is known to all the Congolese “Luba” tribe to which I belong. But there are some exceptions: nothing can happen to the woman if the man has not endowed his wife the price requested by the family, if the wedding has not been consummated or if there has not been a great ceremony for the curse dowry (“tshibau”). A clarification: if the girl gets married with a man from another tribe and commits adultery, she will not die. This spell only works with a Luba husband, in fact, if the Luba man marries a girl from another tribe and she commits adultery, he will soon remain a widower … To conclude, the sacred prohibition is in the body and in the spirit of Luba man and does not belong to the Luba woman. For decades the collective myth of the spirits of the living burial has never been publicly questioned by the Luba people, but, one wonders what impact it has and what consequences in the psyche of adolescents who are preparing to become women.

My grandmother’s story shows us that the belief in the reality of myths is not simple, the mythical form has the first place in the narrative. Truth is not in history, it is in the structure, the form which the unconscious is expressed in. When we set up family contracts, we manifest our belonging to a family and there are a thousand ways to say it. For example, it is said: “I am Luba” and a story about Luba will follow. Therefore, belonging is the structure to be preserved even if all the ternary structures crumble away.

The question is about lightening the traumatic or regulatory constraints. For example, if the image of the father is authoritarian, for the child he will be obliged to become authoritarian like all men in the family or, for the girl, marry an authoritarian type – not doing the opposite, which would be the best catch! It will be necessary to create a narrative of the family that takes into account the matter of authority and transcends it.

Similar behavior applies to social origins: “To which social class I belong if my parents were proletarians and I attended college?” The narrative tries to build (each individual does it in its own way) a coherent link with the original environment. What people tell during therapy is a consultation, a transformation and also a creation that allows a better life or even psychic healing. The narratives are based on memory, however, the latter is quite labile, floating on the thread of memories. We recreate part of a new event with every description we make of the past: and how many times we tell the same situation during therapy!

This weakness, probably, takes us away from the objective truth of the event, but allows different perspectives, allows us to make new choices of experience. It is not jsut memories that can change unconsciously, but new narratives that consciously create something new. We can add new desires, impress our new visions and certainties to embody them in our present life. Our creativity can take place without the heaviness of the past. This is why we should not objectify the past in a repetitive narrative because then everything freezes and old traumas cannot be overcome. Adam Buapua (translation from the original French of Arturo Rinaldi)

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