If you’re like me, you’ve always hated the idea of therapy. To have to sit in front of a stranger and talk about my feelings? No thank you. To be raw, vulnerable, and honest? Not just with myself but with someone in front of me holding me accountable? That’s a firm pass.
But you know how the saying goes. If you really don’t want to do something, it’s probably the thing you need to do.
Still, these days with a myriad of healing modalities in the health, wellness and even commercial spiritual sectors, you can pick and mix as you please! For those of us who identify most with words, however, there are really only two options that suit. Therapy, or storytelling.
How can storytelling be therapeutic?
Using storytelling as a tool isn’t actually a new concept. In Shamanism, storytelling is used to help the writer understand what aspects of their lives are considered obstacles in order to progress and enhance their life story, or to understand where they may have deviated from “the plot line”.
The process involves writing out your life story as it happened, in as much detail as you can remember. It’s funny, when someone starts this process they often find memories they were convinced were crystal clear in their mind are actually full of “plot holes”.
It’s this self realisation that leads them to understand their brain has deleted and distorted their memories to suit the narrative of their beliefs.
Once they have their story on paper, they are asked to rewrite the story but this time to make it fantastical, filled with beasts and heroes, heroines and villains. It’s designed for them to capture the imagination of their inner child.
It’s brilliant when you think about it, really.
Not only is the writer using this tool for self awareness, realisation and clarification, they’re also using it to present their inner child with the experiences, tools and understanding they may not have had at the time those life events truly occurred.
Because what we don’t repair, we repeat.
It’s why so many of us end up in the same relationship dynamic, the same dead end job, the same weight, despite our best efforts. It takes self-awareness of what we’re doing wrong or what we missed, and it also takes us changing or breaking the pattern.
Storytelling gives us a safe space to practice both.
“You can’t make this shit up.”
Humans are storytellers by nature.
From cave drawings to hieroglyphics, Greek myths and today’s traditional fairy tales, we impart knowledge, wisdom, life lessons and also a few biased societal opinions over time in our stories.
Whenever I start with a client on their storytelling journey, or I get into discussions with others about it, I’m not surprised anymore to hear “my life story…well, you couldn’t make this shit up”.
Funnily enough, if the majority of people are saying it, then life is as wild, imaginative and crazy. Even when we don’t often give it credit for those attributes.
It’s why using your own experiences and timeline of events in storytelling is so important. To truly appreciate that what you are going through is an experience. Think of all your favourite heroes and heroines, or even villains. Do you root for them when it’s all easy going? No. You root for them when you know what they’ve been through, overcome and preserved through. The same is true of us in our lives, even with the humdrum of everyday life. It changes your perspective to one of gratitude.
Where to begin?
If storytelling is something you want to try, there are two places you can typically begin.
The first would be a dedicated journalling practice. Whether you write how you’re feeling, what you did that day, you’re asking for guidance or you’re recording dreams, keeping a journaling practice can be a beneficial way to un-jumble the thoughts in your head and gain clarity.
Plus, after a couple of years of dedicated daily journaling, you’ll probably be surprised how many words you have. I’ve worked with aspiring writers who have turned their journalling into books once they’ve gone back and reread their experiences and managed to piece it all together.
That’s the secret to journalling: re-reading. It can be cringeworthy, but that’s because you’ve grown. There is gratitude & awareness in acknowledging your growth.
The other option is to write out the timeline of your life. This is often the outline or the backbone of your book.
Timeline work can be challenging though. I’m yet to meet someone who gets to an area of their timeline and doesn’t reach a blank. They know mentally what happened, but they can’t seem to bring themselves to write about it.
It’s because they’re not ready to unpack or address it yet, and that’s ok. It explains why so many people get part way through writing their book and stop. Or why their dedicated journalling practice falls to the wayside.
Something comes up, and their conscious mind isn’t ready to address it.
Yet, when writing about it, particularly if you decide to dabble in fiction, you’ll find the theme you need to address runs throughout the book anyway.
At seventeen, after my drink was spiked my novels were filled with female characters who had love/hate relationships with men. I couldn’t understand why the only feedback I was getting from my editor was “it really sounds like the female characters hate men”. It was really the deep healing theme I needed to address. (I did, don’t worry. Love men now & so do my characters!)
The writing develops as you get more and more comfortable confronting your story and rewriting it, until you feel ready to tackle the bigger events that require a deeper level of healing, insight and self-reflection.
Not only does storytelling give you the insights, opportunity and time for growth (as well as being a cheap form of self-therapy to tap into), for those who go on to wanting to publish, the experience can also be incredibly empowering. To finish moving through that experience and instead of just going “oh I’m healed”, to actually have a book in your hands? With the potential to impact, encourage or inspire even just one other person with your story?
Well, that’s how legends are born.