Why Your Story Matters

Story-Telling

“Stories are the way we make sense out of the events of our lives.  Individually and collectively we tell stories in order to understand what has happened to us and to create meaning from those experiences.  We all have our individual stories, the narratives of our personal life experiences, through which we deepen our self-knowledge and develop a greater understanding of ourselves and our relationships with others.”  These words jumped out at me while reading Daniel Siegel’s, Parenting from the Inside Out.

Dave and I were reading this book in order to look for better ways to parent our children.  We weren’t approaching it from any perspective other than as parents, and I don’t think the author meant it to speak specifically to survivors of childhood sexual abuse, but reading it as a survivor, it suddenly made sense to me why telling our stories matters so much.  Stories are the way we make sense out of the events of our lives.  If you are a survivor, the abuse you lived through is/are event(s) of your life, just as much as any other.  We tell our stories in order to understand what has happened to us and create meaning from those experiences.  When your story remains hidden, or secret, you are not allowed to explore and deepen your self-knowledge.  We all have our individual stories, the narratives of our personal life experiences through which we understand ourselves.   What is your story?

According to Daniel Siegel, there may be experiences from your own childhood that you couldn’t make sense of at the time, because no caring adult was available to help you understand your experience.  Memory is the way the brain responds to experience and creates new brain connections.  The two major ways connections are made are the two forms of memory: implicit and explicit…Implicit memory is a form of early, nonverbal memory.  Explicit memory is factual and autobiographical.

As infants, we lack the ability to create autobiographical narratives out of experiences, but we still react to events and create implicit memories.  As we grow, we develop the capacity to create an autobiographical narrative from these experiences.

During trauma, Siegel says, it may be that excessive stress directly impairs the functioning of the parts of the brain necessary for autobiographical memories to be stored.  He adds that when it {implicit memory} is retrieved it lacks an internal sensation that something is being ‘recalled’

When memories don’t make it to explicit memory, they don’t become part of our narrative.  They remain just the way we react to things.  Have you ever walked into a room, or smelled a cologne, or felt the temperature change, and been immediately flooded with a sense of vague remembering?  Telling your story can help move your memories of the abuse from implicit to explicit memory, allowing you to begin to understand and process.  Telling your story actually creates new neural pathways in your brain, allowing you the opportunity to have less flooding of emotions and more choices on how you respond to the memory.

If you’re not quite ready to share your story with us, here’s a helpful way to open the door and share your story with yourself.  Use a blank sheet of paper to create your life’s timeline.  Draw a horizontal line across the page.  On the left end, make a mark, and label it “I was born.”   Choose major events in your life and mark them along the timeline.  You choose what they are, marriage, divorce, birth of children, jobs, graduations.  It’s your timeline.  Then, start making marks and labeling the abuse events.  Again, you choose the points.  You choose the labels.  When you’re finished, sit back and look at the timeline.  Put it away for a few days, then get it out again.  See if more needs to be added, or things need to be moved or removed.  This exercise was really powerful for me on many levels.  I hope it is for you too.

“The way we tell our life stories reveals the way we have come to understand the events of our lives.” Daniel Siegel.

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