Do we tell a redemptive or a negative story? Will our story make us better or bitter?

Will our story make us better or bitter? Do we tell a redemptive or a negative story?

When we focus on gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in. Kristin Armstrong.

We create our own narrative, history, and story we tell our self and others. How we tell it can shape our lives to have more meaning and purpose.

We choose what we include in our story, mostly the highest highs, and lowest lows. We may include something in our story that someone else would leave out because it has no significance to them. It may be a positive thing in our story but would be negative to someone else, or it may have helped us grow and created the wound that will not heal in someone else.

A Northwestern University psychologist Dan McAdams is an expert on what he calls “narrative identity. This is the internalized story we create for ourselves. It is our own personal myth. When we want people to understand us we share parts of our story, when we want to understand other people we ask them about parts of their story.

McAdams asks research subjects to divide their lives into chapters and to recount a high point, low point, and turning point. He also encourages participants to examine their values and beliefs. Lastly, he asks them to determine the central theme of their story and to interpret their story’s central theme. It is the interpretation of, not the actual events that are important.

He has discovered how we interpret our lives and our experiences have a huge impact on our lives. The people who are driven to contribute to society and future generations in big ways are more likely to tell redemptive stories about their lives. They see the good in the hard times they went through. People who tell redemptive stories rate their lives as being more meaningful than those who don’t tell or tell fewer redemptive stories.

A psychotherapist’s job is to help people tell their story in a more positive way. It isn’t only what happens to us, but how we interpret what happens to us that shapes our life. We can’t control the events that shape our lives; they are usually outside of ourselves. Where we grew up, the economy, the culture, and opportunities shaped our lives.

Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything. Alan Cohen

What is in our control is how we react to what happens in our life. Why do we call the people who grew up in the depression and fought in the second World War the “greatest generation”? They lived through momentous change, they had an incredible work ethic, they were frugal, and they understood sacrifice and honor.

Living through any time in history everyone has to make sense of their own story. No matter when and how we grow up we have to make sense of the circumstances that shape our lives. If we look through the lenses of redemption or contamination we change our reaction to our story. When we can realize we can glean some meaning from the hardships in our life we start to appreciate our life and our lessons. These lessons we might not have been able to learn any other way.

Finding meaning in the hard parts of our life doesn’t mean we wouldn’t change things if we could, but we can’t, all we can do is grow through adversity and pain. We don’t need to be grateful for the horrible things that happen to be grateful for the lessons learned. It is the hardest experiences that teach us the most powerful and transformative lessons.

As I write this I am thinking of someone whose daughter died too soon, with a young baby and a new husband. Her mother has written a book about getting through her and her husband’s hardest days.

Are we better, or bitter because of our story?

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Melody Beattie

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Mourning Has Broken: Love, Loss and Reclaiming Joy Hardcover – Feb 26 2019


Telling your story. It’s in you to tell, people need to hear it, and you need to tell it.

Telling your story. You need to tell it and people need to hear it.

The truth is, we all face hardships of some kind, and you never know the struggles a person is going through. Behind every smile, there’s a story of a personal struggle. Adrienne C. Moore

Life is what we make it. Last night as I got in my truck after going to the gym I heard the radio personality say, “The doctor told me I had cancer yesterday.” It turns out he was reading from his writings on having cancer.”

He was angry when he learned he had cancer, but he realized quickly what would all that anger do? His challenge was to eliminate anger and negativity, that was five years ago. Today he has a clean bill of health.

I’m looking at an article written by Bonnie Annis Finding Gratitude and Other Lessons Learned from Cancer. She says cancer teaches lessons we never dreamed we needed to learn.

Gratitude seems to be one of the big lessons that survivors learn. They learn to be grateful it wasn’t worse. It’s a lesson we can all learn, whatever if we survive it, could have been worse.

Bonnie Annis says she learned she had a choice about how to live each day. She could choose gratitude and joy or she could choose anger and bitterness. She could go forward or she could give up. It is the hardest, most challenging and difficult thing she experienced in her life.

She says with all its ugliness there are lessons to learn, lessons we might learn no other way.

I am grateful for the willingness of people to bare their soul when they go through the worst life has to offer them. They learn lessons and in telling their story we learn lessons.

Nobody is a villain in their own story. We’re all the heroes of our own stories. George R.R. Martin

Everyone has a story, everyone has learned lessons. The more we talk, write and listen to other peoples stories the more we learn. We are told that telling our story has a physical effect on our body, toxic stress hormones are turned off, our body’s repair mechanisms are turned on.

My husband says to me sometimes. What do you find to talk about? He means when I attend the book club, the book takes up fifteen minutes and we talk until the coffee shop or restaurant closes. We are telling each other our stories. We are making sense of the hand we’ve been dealt, the choices we have. In good times and bad we support each other. We can celebrate achievements, and talk about what has brought us to our knees.

Not everyone who has joined our group is comfortable with it. That is okay, I do think everyone would be better off telling their story, but it’s a personal decision. When we listen to other peoples stories we are tempted to tell our own. Each person must find their own comfort level.

The more we keep bottled up inside the harder it can be to learn the lessons and heal. We may not always be comfortable hearing someone’s story, the anger, vitriol, and condemnation springing forth may feel like blame, condemnation, and judgment. If we can listen, they can get it out and maybe they’ll be able to process it and move onto a better place.

We’ve hurt people in our lives we didn’t mean to hurt. We’ve been hurt in our lives by people who didn’t mean to hurt us. When people can tell their story without judgment, they can heal. If we can tell our story without judgment we can heal.

The stories in our families where we are hurt the most, where we are judged the most maybe some of the most important and hardest stories to tell. We can’t believe what we hear, but if we will hear it, healing can begin.

The stories we tell about ourselves are the key to our wellbeing. Joseph Campbell tells us, “Where you stumble is where your treasure lies.”

We all have a story to tell. Are you telling yours?

You don’t just have a story – you’re a story in the making, and you never know what the next chapter’s going to be. That’s what makes it exciting. Dan Millman

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The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal from Trauma, Illness, or Loss Paperback – May 26 2017

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