I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that every one of us has experienced something we’d rather not talk about. A traumatic incident. A crushing failure. An embarrassing mistake. A time we were so divorced from our true wants and needs that we acted out of character and hurt others in the process.
Perhaps you tried to forget the experience, or ignore it, or deny the full extent of its impact.
Doesn’t work, does it?
The only way to heal from painful experiences is by giving them light, air and space to breathe.
The memoirists I work with understand this. They know—eventually, if not right away—that writing about a challenging experience transforms their relationship to it. By turning a private struggle into a shared story, these writers are recovering the power the triggering event once took from them, a transformation that allows them to uncover the beauty, strength and meaning hidden inside their own personal journey.
Although I specialize in working with writers aiming to publish, I don’t believe you have to create a 300-page manuscript to gain the life-changing benefits of personal storytelling. All you need is a willingness to look toward difficult experiences instead of away from them.
Why? Because there is power in bearing witness to one’s own existence.
Honoring the truth of your experience is a tremendous act of self-validation. When you engage with where you’ve been and what you’ve endured, you are honoring the fullness of your one precious life.
When you embrace the path you’ve traveled you stop looking for others to embrace it for you.
When you see, truly see, where you’ve struggled and survived, you can begin to let go of all the self-limiting narratives you’ve been telling yourself and embrace the gifts inherent in every experience.
I’ve witnessed this transformation over and over again in my clients.
The recovering alcoholic releases his shame and gains empathy for others caught in the grip of self-inflicted pain.
The victim of childhood sexual abuse becomes an advocate for children who have no other champions.
The executive who was dyslexic as a child goes on to build a multi-million dollar company—and begins speaking publicly about his early learning challenges in order to inspire others.
Once you recognize and accept your wounds as well as your triumphs, you can begin to write a new narrative for your life. One where mistakes become lessons, villains are recast as mentors, and the turning points of your life are built around the strengths you gained instead of the things you lost.
But valuing our own stories takes us only halfway. To experience the full transformative power of personal storytelling you have to be willing to, well, tell your story—over coffee, at a dinner party, in a speech. It doesn’t matter where you speak your truth, only that you do.
Stories connect. Stories are relatable. Stories move. Stories are memorable. But while the details of our stories may differ greatly, all of our stories share the same emotions—loss, love, anguish, worry, fear, dread, elation, shame, guilt, pride, grief, and on and on.
When you tell another person your story, you are breaking down the artificial barrier that separates the “I” from the “you” and creating a sacred “we.” You are establishing a space where our common experiences connect us, instead of allowing the differences to divide. In this way, stories create understanding, teach us about our common humanity, and help us realize, on a visceral level, that we are not alone.
Silence doesn’t achieve any of this.
Only story does.
And this superpower is available to everyone.