JAN: Cultivating Compassionate Curiosity for People’s Stories
When we see dysfunctional behavior in other people, the immediate reaction is to wonder, “Why does he do that?” At first glance, that person’s behavior might seem baffling to us, especially if he persists in a behavior that is clearly harmful to his life. We might even wonder that about our own lives and some of our own behaviors.
The truth of the matter is that we all do things for a reason, however unconscious. At one level, because we are sinners, we tend to devise our own ways instead of trusting God with the deepest longings of our hearts. But the particular longings that drive each of us, and the ways in which we seek to meet them, are intricately shaped by our story and the context in which we grew up. It can include our biological and personality make-up, family of origin, development, trauma, social history, and cultural context. When we begin to comprehend the many factors that have shaped and impacted a person’s life, then her behaviors begin to make sense. If we want to help someone truly change from the inside out, it is our task as counselors help our clients make sense of their stories and the contexts in which they grew up. It also enables us to enter in with compassion and understanding. So it is imperative that caregivers become good listeners who have compassionate curiosity about the complexity of people’s lives.
Constructing a genogram is one way that can help us appreciate the shaping influences in someone’s life and begin to see family patterns. This month’s tool will highlight the basic instructions and key symbols of the genogram so that you can use it to shed light on your own story, as well as that of those you counsel.
Ellen Lee, LMHC
Clinical Director and Counselor