Mental health experts have long understood that “knowing your story” is an important part of living your best life. Whether a cohesive recounting of a traumatic event with a therapist, details about your health history, or just basic insights about your family of origin’s values and dynamics, our stories give us information on which to build a strong foundation. Even events that had a negative impact, when understood, lead to great compassion and empathy. Telling your own story isn’t really for others.
Whether it is never seen by another, or only shared with a therapist or the most intimate relationships in our lives, the purpose is to give ourselves a deeper understanding of the external and internal forces which shape us. This, in turn, gives us the opportunity to redirect some of the undesirable circumstances, behaviors or thoughts in our lives. Journaling is a tool used by therapists to help people tell their story. If writing seems too time consuming, many people find recording short videos can be helpful. Keep in mind, these exercises are for you, there are no right or wrong answers. It is simply an exercise to help you know yourself.
Along with Julie Butscher, LCSW, we have compiled a guide to help you get started on telling your own personal story.
Timeline. Start as far back you can remember, then sequentially recount life events and memories up until present day. It is important not only to recount painful events, but also the joyful ones. Include major transitions, things that happened not as an event, but over the course of time. This can be in bullet form or in full sentences.
Question & Answer. Answering a few questions about your life can help paint a picture. What is your greatest accomplishment? Regret? What was your best or favorite age? What would you tell your younger self?
Unusual or Funny events. Recall an unusual or funny circumstance you’ve found yourself in. These stories personalize learning and lead to deeper understanding. They put a smile on your face, releasing mood-lifting endorphins. It gives us the chance to laugh at ourselves, which puts other life events into perspective
Family Tree. Sometimes, important life lessons are learned over the course of many small experiences that we may not even remember and may be common behaviors from your past. Write down family members and look at traits that are common.
It is important if you are feeling overwhelmed by life and have thoughts of harming yourself or others that you speak to a professional. To find a therapist in your area, visit psychologytoday.com