Woodiwiss, Jo (2014) What's wrong with me? A cautionary tale of contemporary 'damage narratives'. In: http://www.hud.ac.uk/ourstaff/profile/index.php?staffuid=shumjw, 23rd-25th April 2014, Leeds, UK.

As the novelist Chimamanda Adichie warns, if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a
‘critical misunderstanding’ and this is also true when we draw on one story to help us make sense of our own lives.
We are all engaged in a continuous process of re/telling our life stories. Whilst we do not simply slot ourselves into
readymade narratives we do draw on stories or narrative frameworks currently in circulation. In the late twentieth and
early twenty first centuries the stories we (can) tell about ourselves are increasingly informed by ‘damage narratives’
and a therapeutic culture, where increasing emphasis is placed on looking inward for possible causes of, and
solutions to, our troubles.
In this paper I look at the role of contemporary storytelling and highlight the limitations or dangers of currently available
(damage) narrative frameworks within which we make sense of our lives. In doing so I draw on my own research on
women’s stories of childhood sexual abuse, stories of adoption and wider engagement with self-help literature to show
not only the dangers of a single dominant story but also how we can be imprisoned as well as liberated by the stories
we come to tell. I argue that we do need to listen to the stories being told but, at the same time, also need to examine
the limitations and constraints placed on those stories and question which stories can be told, and heard, and which
cannot – and by whom.

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