Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Power of Our Stories, Part I

Maya Angelou, one of my favorite writers, once said: "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."  I believe this, which is one reason that I became a therapist--there are few things more important or fascinating than someone's story.  Our stories are formed over time, simmering and bubbling beneath the surface like a rich, flavorful stew.  Stories, like any great stew, have many ingredients.  Our family attitudes and earliest experiences, our relationships, our work, our triumphs and our traumas.  Our stories guide us throughout our lives, informing how we do almost everything...from brushing our teeth to choosing a partner. Good therapy encourages us to tell our stories in a safe, supportive environment, offering us the opportunity to explore and understand them more deeply, to make sense of them and to see how they have influenced how we think, feel and act in everyday life.  

Have you ever taken the time to think about your story, or to tell it to someone else?  What stands out in your story?  What are the themes?
If you like to write, buying a journal (or just finding a notebook lying around that can be used as a journal) might help get you started.  Don't worry about doing it right--there is no right way to do it.  If you are worried about not knowing how to begin, here are some strategies to try:  

-Try asking yourself, what is my earliest memory?  Write as much as you can about the memory, just letting it flow, and seeing where it takes you.  

-Borrowing from the wisdom of Claude Steiner, who wrote Scripts People Live, ask yourself, "what movie most represents my life?" Once you have chosen the movie, write about how it relates to your life, again, just letting it flow.

-Finally, if you have tried this before and/or you are worried that everything you will write will be negative, pessimistic and will make you feel worse, try this.  Try writing your story (you can start with any past event that comes to mind) from a third person perspective, ie. he / she / Helena...  Research has been done in the area of positive psychology proving that when we recall past events or tell our stories in the third person, it helps to create some distance from the situations, allowing for new insights to emerge, and often new optimism.  

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
-Marcel Proust

Part II, The Power of How We Tell Our Stories, coming soon...


  1. Helena -- congratulations on this blog. It's warm, welcoming and instructional too! I agree with the power of story-telling. Another resource for your readers, and a place to figure out how to begin, is the book "The Power of Memoir, How to write your healing story" by Linda Joy Myers. Best of luck with this - can't wait to see part 2 of this subject!

  2. Thank you, Joy! The Power of Memoir is a great suggestion-I'm looking forward to checking it out.