What was the last story you told? Who did you tell? Was it recently? Maybe even today…
Telling a story can be such a mundane part of our lives, we don’t even realize we are doing it. Simplistic in nature yet powerfully meaningful, we don’t often recognize the impact our stories have on ourselves and each other. A story can be quite profound in it’s ability to connect us with each other in ways that can go well beyond a smile, nod, or pat on the back. Our stories often communicate “I get what you’re going through” or “I want you to see me”. And the listener of that story has a great responsibility, mirroring the storyteller in a way that shows that they are being seen and heard for what they are going through and even, who they are.
When you told your last story, how did you feel? Excited to connect? Maybe a little bubbly inside? Could that even be some nervousness? Perhaps the tiniest sliver of vulnerability? What’s that about?! Well, when we are telling a story we are giving the listener a piece of ourselves, how our mind works, how we view the world, and often our emotional reactions to that world. These are vulnerable parts of ourselves.
But sometimes that vulnerability is just too much, it makes us clam up. Sometimes it is just too hard to tell our stories.
That raw vulnerability can feel overwhelming. It may make us too nervous or anxious, so anxious that we stay quiet, even though a story is bubbling up inside. Or perhaps we can imagine a person that was so wounded in the past for telling their stories that they decided it was safer to keep it all inside.
This is a great place for therapy to step in. And where the simple act of telling our story can become incredibly therapeutic. Take our friend above, the one who is so wounded that he just decided it was easier to keep these sacred parts of himself hidden, to keep his stories to himself.We’ll call him Steve.
Our Steve is struggling and he begins to experience problems in his life. His relationships are suffering because people just don’t “know” him. His wife can’t get him to communicate and his children can’t connect to him. He goes to social mixers for work but sits so quietly his co-workers have given up on trying to connect with him. His world is growing smaller and smaller. He slips into a depression and finally reaches out to a therapist for help.
What happens next? Well maybe he begins to build a sense of trust and connection. And just maybe he begins to tell a story, the safest of stories that reveals very little about his inner self, but it’s a beginning. Well, so what? Big deal? How is THAT healing??!!!
On a foundational level Steve has been seen for who he is and accepted for that. Even if it is just a sliver of light on his true self, he has let that in. It’s a beginning.
Also, when we tell stories we assign order to the events in our lives. From an afternoon at the grocery store to a deep trauma. We can take something that seems senseless and chaotic and made sense out of it. Think about it, to tell a story we have to create a beginning, middle, and end. Once we tell the story, we’ve assigned order to events that may not have presented themselves to us in that way originally.
Another magical element of storytelling is the process of attaching meaning to sometimes chaotic events. Perhaps Steve’s father was horribly neglectful toward him, ignored him and snapped at him for even speaking. Inside Steve’s head this just feels crazy, out-of-control, and painful on a very deep level. In fact, Steve can hardly handle the way it feels and so he has never, ever spoken a word about it.
But now Steve has been in therapy for a little while, and he realizes that he trusts his therapist enough to tell his story. Without even realizing what he was doing, Steve began by assigning order to the story, a beginning, middle and end. His story began when he was a young child trying to get his father’s attention but he was ignored and neglected time and time again. He realized he would never connect with his dad, it was useless and he gave up. Then, Steve grew up, had a family and continued to distance himself from people to feel safe. But part of him always knew he wanted better for himself, and his family. Finally he’s come into therapy and is learning ways to begin to tell his stories, he’s really trying, he’s making small connections, it’s working and he’s beginning to actually feel good.
Steve has done it. He told his story and gave it the all-important beginning, middle and end. He gave it order. Now he’s told it a few times, even to his wife, and the order is becoming part of who he is. Plus, the magic has happened, he’s found meaning out of the nonsensical. The painful wound around his relationship with his dad was too much for him to handle on his own. But once he got it out, and made a story out of it, it began to make sense, he began to heal.
This magical act of storytelling can heal wounds, bridge gaps between people, and even change lives. Sometimes our stories are too much for us to hold inside. They fill us up, becoming too big and scary. But if we have a courageous heart we can begin to speak these truths, untangle the knots inside, and create meaning through this powerful, yet simple act of telling a story.