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Re: Unexamined & Unhealthy Stories

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A friend read my post “Unexamined and Unhealthy Stories May Be Dragging You Down,” and asked this question:

What you write makes intuitive sense to me. I love hearing peoples’ stories and telling my own. I’m curious as to what has led you to these insights? Is there a body of literature on this subject or is it something you’ve developed on your own based on a variety of things such as reading, discussions with other people, your own story, spiritual experiences, etc.

E.S.

My Response:

Hi E.S.,

The first thing I remember reading about one’s life story was from the Christian therapist Dan Allender. The book was called To Be Told. Another is Curt Thompson. He’s a Christian therapist, too, but I noticed he is much more aware of neuroscience than most Christians. And he refrains from simplistic answers. His podcast is called Being Known, which is at the heart of his approach: telling your story to a safe person.  Here’s a quote from Thompson on story:

Dr. Daniel Siegel  said that an important part of how people change—not just their experiences, but also their brains—is through the process of telling their stories to an empathic listener. When a person tells her story and is truly heard and understood, both she and the listener undergo actual changes in their brain circuitry. They feel a greater sense of emotional and relational connection, decreased anxiety, and greater awareness of and compassion for others’ suffering. Using the language of neuroscience, Dr. Siegel labeled the change “increased integration.” (Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul )

Here’s a good nonreligious piece on narrative psychology in The Atlantic:

“In the realm of narrative psychology, a person’s life story is not a Wikipedia biography of the facts and events of a life, but rather the way a person integrates those facts and events internally—picks them apart and weaves them back together to make meaning. This narrative becomes a form of identity, in which the things someone chooses to include in the story, and the way she tells it, can both reflect and shape who she is.  A life story doesn’t just say what happened, it says why it was important, what it means for who the person is, for who they’ll become, and for what happens next.
Sometimes in cases of extreme autism, people don’t construct a narrative structure for their lives,” says Jonathan Adler, an assistant professor of psychology at Olin College of Engineering, ‘but the default mode of human cognition is a narrative mode.'” (Julie Beck, “Life Stories” The Atlantic, August 10, 2016)

For the full article go to:https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/08/life-stories-narrative-psychology-redemption-mental-health/400796

There’s a book I’m aware but have not read by Jonathan Gottschall called The Storytelling Animal. I think he takes it from the scientific perspective and concludes our stories are coping fictions.

The last thing I want to add today is that the actual process of searching for and entering the brokenness of your story is how I learned more about story and found beauty. I had to be willing to adjust my interpretation of my story. It was disorienting to ask, “what happened back there?” The story I imbibed over the years led to despair, but when I realized I was worshiping a construction of my imagination that I hoped would bolster my pride, it was devastating AND the beginning of a new hope…

More soon, 

Mark 

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