Healing, love, friendship, identity, childhood, pain, resilience–our lives all mirror each other in these ways. Storytelling is a powerful vehicle that connects us to these themes and allows us to share them with others.
A little bit about me and storytelling
The fear of sharing my stories has stopped me, both in writing and in conversation, far more than I’d like to admit. I am a master at keeping things to myself. I’ve been working on directing that mastery only towards the people that I believe don’t need to or shouldn’t hear my stories, but it’s been scary even when I manage to share them. Vulnerability is at the core of personal storytelling, and vulnerability isn’t always easy.
It’s no surprise that when I first started writing this blog, I believed that the only audience who would ever set eyes upon my words was me. I believed my writing would be a personal liberation movement of sorts–a way to get my experiences out of my heart because I needed my stories to live somewhere outside of me. I kept the posts private for some time. Then I started to question whether I should post them publicly.
Despite my fervent desire to keep things to myself, my belief that storytelling is a central vehicle towards authenticity, won the debate. Speaking openly about who I am and who I am working to become is incredibly important to me in this part of my life. Furthermore, the more I delved into personal storytelling, the more I realized others were dealing with similar things. I wanted to share what was happening to me in my little corner of the internet so that someone dealing with something similar wouldn’t feel alone. So, dear reader, here I am creating space for storytelling. Whether you daydream about your stories in solitary moments, out loud on phone calls with friends, via photographs on social media, or simply through quiet connection through someone else’s written words, we are all storytellers, including you.
What happens to us when we tell or hear stories?
Storytelling has been at the center of our evolution for centuries. It is ancestrally engrained in who we are. When we tell stories we find ways to connect to others, to connect to ourselves, to share a moral, a cultural attribute, to see things with greater clarity because we’ve given ourselves the space to think and be in the moment. Words have the power to produce empathy, imagination, laughter, a shared experience. Just think about all of the stories you’re surrounded by on a daily basis. People craft their stories of themselves on social media. Marketing gurus create stories about why we need a certain product. Family members tell us about relatives so that we keep them close. As an educator, I even tell stories about students with data. We’re surrounded by stories all of the time.
I am especially fascinated by what happens in our brains when we hear stories. Words can drive the release of hormones that can make us feel fear, empathy, love, and connection. If you’re curious about what happens in our brains when we hear stories, I highly encourage you to check out this TedTalk:
Storytelling and wellbeing
So, what role does storytelling have in our mental wellbeing? I believe the stories you consume shape your view of yourself and the world. I also believe that the stories you tell (and how you tell them) shapes your own perception of yourself. I think that when we become really good at telling our stories, we grow closer to who we were meant to become. It becomes an expression of authenticity and in that authenticity we create a healthy sense of self and wellbeing. Furthermore, as our stories unfold, we begin to see a path towards who we are working to become.
I’ll end with this: I believe that one of the greatest mistakes a person can make is to keep the stories they want to tell inside of them. If you feel a story needs to come out, do it. Write it. Speak it. Draw it. Write it then burn it in some ceremonial act. Get the stories that you need to come out, out. When this life is over, what will be left of you and me are the stories we shared.