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Stories That Help Us Heal

March 29, 2012

The impetus for this blog was born at the crossroads between my life as a writer and my work as a hypnotherapist, in a desire not only to bring these two sides of my life together but to work in a stream that Rachel Naomi Remen and other writers and therapists are exploring today: the exploration of how and why making stories helps us heal. Why is it that turning the messy, raw material of our lives into something as structured as a story or a poem can be so beneficial? And in what ways is story-telling available to all of us, whether or not we put them into writing?

There was a recent article in the New York Times, about returning veterans and PTSD, that recounts the ways in which vets have been able to move beyond trauma and grow in surprising ways. The story tells of increased mental focus, new ambitions, greater commitment to loved ones and community, and even spiritual growth. This seems like a last-stage-of-war story: ultimately, after digesting or not digesting wartime horrors of various kinds, the human animal is driven to “make sense” of what has happened. There is something of a survival instinct in both the veterans’ growth and in the journalist reporting of it: the healthy alternative to giving into despair is moving toward narratives that help us live with a painful past. There are different terms for this, depending on where you’re coming from. You could call it looking for a silver lining. In psychology, it’s called “reframing.” In a spiritual context, it is seen as a life emergency that leads to spiritual emergence.

In the case of the veterans, the ones who did move forward were able to put their suffering to work. And that’s where a lot of stories start: a need for resolution, for a more comfortable way of holding something uncomfortable. The story flows from the insertion of an individual life into the creation of a larger frame–of family, society, or spiritual connection–and that larger frame, with its reduction of the ego and opening to wholeness, is what leads to healing.