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  • Writer's picturekatrice horsley

Finding Our Red Thread

In Sweden the metaphor of the 'Red Thread' is used to denote the idea that pulls everything together; whether it is in a conference, training module or dialogue. It is in this capacity that I refer to it now, as the main thread that pulls our life together and gives it a certain meaning - our story in fact.

I remember reading somewhere that our lives are not the events that happen to us but rather how we choose to make sense of those events: the story we choose to create based on them.

With this in mind, I recently designed and delivered a Narrative and Communication Course to over 70 students at the Nordiska Textilakedemin. It was a new course design that I developed to encompass work on our internal narrative as well as external communication skills. I wanted the student to become aware of their internal narrative which in turn forms how confidently they communicate externally. After many years of designing and delivering training courses, I now feel that unless half of the training is given over to identifying and deconstructing our internal narratives there is little point in offering communication/storytelling techniques and tools. I can show people lighting techniques, body language skills, vocal techniques, how to use rhythm, rhyme, pacing etc. Yet if they believe that their voice is not worth hearing, that their story is not worth telling, that their face should not be seen, those tools and techniques are made redundant. They need to first take apart the fabric of narratives that form their identity and start a process to honour their authentic selves, to honour their Red Thread.

Our 'Red Thread' often lies so far underneath the threads of others, that we are not even aware of it. We are woven into the fabrics of societies, of communities and families. We are woven into the roles of mother, father, daughter, son, sibling, student, peace-maker, responsible income generator, the strong one, the anxious one, the A Grader, the dumb one ..... the threads of identity given to us, go on an on and on. They are woven into our psyche, usually without us being aware of them. Also many of us will be told that our Red Thread has less value than the threads of others. This may be based on our gender, colour, weight, appearance, mental health and again the list goes on and on. We are lost in the heavy weighted fabric of cultural narratives, colonial narratives, personal narratives and these threads form us and shape us and shape our behaviour, our beliefs and our views, not just of others but also of ourselves.

For many years I believed that a good wife and mother should sacrifice herself to the needs of her husband and children which meant that my needs were of less value. I complied to this narrative, trying to be 'sexy' and desirable, a martyr, a good cook, a good house-wife, a dutiful wife. I worked as a child-minder, part-time youth worker, made crafts to sell, fitted all of this around my children's schooling and tried to support my husband in his role as the full-time worker and main wage earner. Yet my compliance came at a cost, my non-existent boundaries took the form of a simmering and constant resentment. I wanted to be so much more and do so much more, yet felt I could not voice this as I would be perceived as a selfish person and a failure at being a good mother and wife (and let me throw in daughter here too, I would also be letting my mom down if I failed within my marriage.) I wanted to be seen as 'kind' and this need to be 'kind' led to lies and not being truthful about how I felt because I knew the truth could hurt the people I loved. So rather than acknowledging my truth and admitting my unhappiness, I swallowed it and the simmering resentment continued. I look back now and see how tangled up I was in so many other narratives, my mother's story of what it was to be a good mother and wife, her mother's story of the same and how caught up my first husband was in the warp and weft of identity, duty and roles within his own narrative. In retrospect, believe that any 'positive trait' if taken to the extreme can become a negative trait; responsibility becomes control, kindness becomes deceit, generosity becomes irresponsibility. It was only when I thought about what my children were witnessing and experiencing that I suddenly realised the message I was living was not one I wanted them to follow. I wanted both of them to be able to honour themselves and give themselves and their passions and needs and desires worth, whether they were in a relationship or even if they became parents. I was not modelling that, I had not just lost my Red Thread, I had chosen to abandon it.

I have spent many years since trying to be aware of my Red Thread, this is hard work as the more I disentangle myself from the fabric of societal norms, the more I realise that I have been complicit in hiding or damaging it. The fact that I am partly responsible for the damage to myself is an uncomfortable lump, yet the more I work with it, spin out the knots the easier it is to use in a positive way. I absolutely know that there are systems of oppression that work against certain groups within society, systemic racism, homophobia, white supremacy are all real. As a working-class, non-university educated woman I have also been aware of these, especially in cultures where opinions have little value unless accompanied by a PhD. Yet ironically, I echo this opinion against myself also. I often choose to give little worth to my work; I doubt it and myself and forget my Red Thread and the dreams and visions I crave. In some ways it is not so much that I want to create a new story for my life, it is that I want to stop doubting my worth and the worth of those dreams I have, for how I wish my life to be. I now realise that I cannot create the external narrative I want without first untangling my internal one and becoming aware of the knots and frayed sections that are part of it. If I am not aware of them, the knots and frayed sections will snag me into the old behaviours of not valuing my voice or worth and give rise to that simmering resentment again. Bubble, bubble ....

This is why I have taken to wearing a red thread on my wrist. Whilst I know that a red thread on one's wrist has significance in many cultures, for me it acts as a reminder when I make decisions throughout the day. It helps me think - am I honouring my Red Thread by doing this? It has also had an effect on my Beloved who will often refer to it and and say, 'you decide Katrice, is it following your Red Thread?'

When I posted this idea on my Instagram, so many people responded positively and it got me to thinking about daily things we can do to remind us of our Red Thread. So this is my next venture - I am creating a new series on my YouTube channel all about the Red Thread and also offering a pilot course to those who have subscribed to my website. The course will cover external communication skills that we can all utilise in our daily lives as well as that internal work of finding and honouring our Red Thread. I hope you will join me on this journey and perhaps we can start to weave together communities and societies that honour and raise up the worth of all our incredible threads.

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1 Comment

Cath Edwards
Cath Edwards
Jun 09, 2021

The red thread - what a lovely way of thinking about these ideas. I also think your Beloved might be a reincarnation of Gawain...

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