Once upon a time, during my postdoc, I became intrigued by the notion of personal narratives. As a psychologist, I always knew that obtaining at least some sense of one’s history is important to contextualize current difficulty. But this understanding felt different. This was a realization that language naturally becomes a way in which we come to understand ourselves in the context of the great big universe we are a part of.
One moment in time becomes another, and many moments strung together make a day, and then a year, and then many years. In parallel to that, our words become full sentences, and then paragraphs and pretty soon we have chapters.
As usually happens when I become intrigued by something, I did some research. What that really means is that I perused peer-reviewed journals, read many blog posts, and made a point to be mindful to personal experience I either had or witnessed (anecdotal stuff!)
Here are a few things I came up with. Let’s delve in together!
Actually writing about our emotional experiences influences our health
This is true for many reasons including:
1. By writing about emotional experiences we simply become more health conscious and then ideally change our behaviors. Seeing things in writing can lead to “Oh, I didn’t realize, but I can be more proactive in this way or that way…”
2. Just the act of expressing something in it of itself has been shown to be beneficial to our health. Get this…this is sometimes true even more so for expressive writing (verbal) than expression through movement (non-verbal)!
3. The act of converting emotions and images into written words can change the way we organize and think about traumatic experiences we’ve had. Through writing, we have the chance to integrate our sometimes-fragmented thoughts and feelings into a cohesively constructed narrative. Once that is formed, the traumatic event can be better understood linearly in our memories, and then better integrated into our every day lives. Basically, when experiences are translated into language, it becomes something we can grasp.
We each have a unique story
How do I know this, you ask?! Well, if I ever doubt it, I am reminded every single day when I sit with many patients back to back. Yes, people technically struggle with the “same” thing, for example depression, but EVEN when they have the same check-boxed criteria, their struggle is different. The same is true for positive experiences. Why? Simply put, because you are you and no one else is.
No one has the same lens through which we perceive our existence and interact with the world, which has evolved over our lives amidst all the people and places in it.
We have a say in how our story unfolds
You are the protagonist. So own it! Research shows that when you construct your narrative with yourself as the leading person, opting for the driver’s seat instead of shotgun, your mental health is improved.
Here’s the even more amazing thing…
We can CHANGE our story at any time. We can’t delete certain paragraphs that ooze with negative facts and daunting realities. We can’t cut out chapters that we rather have not had. They will always be there, and that’s ok. Research suggests that the actual experiences we have are less impactful than the story we tell ourselves about them.
At any single moment, we can change our scripts of helplessness and hopelessness, and move beyond them by empowering ourselves to do just that.
Are you ready try to write our stories from a different perspective, with a new belief system a la I AM enough/worthy/capable/lovable? I look forward to hearing your thoughts…please comment below and let’s get this convo started!
Dr. Jen @BrainCurves
Thanks for this! You reminded me of this poster that was in my 8th grade humanities classroom that said “every life has a story.” After staring at that poster for the entire school year it became one of my favorite quotes and words to live by to better understand ourselves, and others too.