Stories are core to the way we learn and navigate what it means to be social beings in the society we are raised in. Tales of our heritage, fairytales of romance and accounts of our culture provide us with a framework to carve out a sense of being and belonging. As we mature however, our stories become the means by which we communicate our truths with others or indeed ourselves. How did I meet my partner? What were the events leading up to my accident? How do I think this confrontation with my colleague will play out? Our minds thrive on coherence – on things ‘making sense’ and stories feed this need. In fact, according to research, our brains are wired to think in, and seek the cause and effect pattern characteristic of all stories. This is why, when someone tells us a story, the parts of the brain being utilised in the storyteller’s mind are then mirrored in the mind of the listener – stories literally connect us and fuel empathic responses, according to Uri Hassan. How cool is that?
Storytelling is a professional preoccupation of mine at the moment as I work on designing a framework to enable those living with complex mental illness to share their journeys of recovery with others. Traditionally, storytelling hasn’t been endowed with the prestige it deserves – in the thesaurus, stories are akin with terms such as ‘yarns’, ‘falsehoods’ and ‘accounts’, articulated as no more than subjective anecdotes rather than scientific, objective fact. In my opinion though, stories are fact – they are our truths and I’m not convinced that anything our than our lived experience of reality really matters. Other than them mattering though, why are they my source of happiness this week?
Brene Brown, one of my favourite storytellers, claims that stories are simply ‘data with a soul’ and I love this phrase. When you’re dating, as I indeed am, you find yourself recounting and sharing a lot of stories and thus, I feel like Im literally bringing my soul to the table each time. Stories of my arrival in Melbourne, stories underpinning my decisions to leave teaching and enter the world of mental health, stories of past relationships, stories of travelling adventures and so on. This is emotionally exhausting, but without sharing my stories, I’ve come to realise that I can’t experience the joy that accompanies this exhaustion – the joy found in connection.
When we share, we invite others to own some of our story too as it resonates and relates to their own truths and so my story is no longer mine, but ours. I’ve questioned whether losing this control over my truths should cause me angst or concern and I’ve come to the realisation that it doesn’t. Storytelling is my happiness this week, because in telling my stories, I am validating and owning my journey and I feel empowered by this. If by doing this, it fuels connection, and invites someone else to wrap words around narratives which have become unvoiced and invisible in their lives, then so be it. As Brene also famously states: ‘you either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for its worthiness’. All I do know is that I’m no hustler and if someone wants to hear my falls as well as my triumphs, I invite them into my world and if reading this today communicates anything, let it be the knowledge that you should never have to hustle to be heard 🙂