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Storytelling for self-healing

Almost a year and a half ago, I started writing on LinkedIn. I had no plans for my content; I just wrote. One day, I wrote a post about being a widow and how I had only the night before written that word – widow – to describe myself for the first time.

I was amazed by the response and the numbers of people who wanted to hear more of my story. There were other widows who sent me private messages saying that I had encouraged them by being so public about my grief. Eventually, a couple of them decided to write their own posts about becoming widows.

It wasn’t until several months after writing my stories of grief and the trauma surrounding my husband’s death, that I realized I was beginning to feel a weight lifting from my shoulders. I started using the word “healing” to describe how my storytelling was affecting me.

A female-presenting person rests her hand on her hand, looking at another blonde-haired person, with 2 wine glasses in front of them, as one reads her writing.

What I’ve learned since then is that there is research that confirms the healing benefits of storytelling, or narratives. According to Dr. Annie Brewster in a February 2023 interview, the Healing Power of Storytelling, with Stephanie Dutchen from Harvard Medical School, it is not necessarily the content of the story that is beneficial, but the themes that are in the stories.

5 themes to write your own story for healing

When helping others write their stories, there are five themes Dr. Brewster looks for:

  1. Agency: does the person telling the narrative feel in control of themselves? The greater the amount of agency, the better the person’s mental health.

  2. Communion: does the person write about connections and relationships? Another indicator of mental health.

  3. Coherence: does the story make sense?

  4. Redemption: is the person able to reframe negative situations into positive ones?

  5. Accommodative processing: is the person able to make meaning from the negative events in the story? Being able to do this is important because it signifies the person has been able to process the hard, or negative, parts of the narrative and find meaning in it. And, yes, this is another sign of good mental health.

Look for these themes the next time you write a story about a life event. You will find clues about how you are processing the event and your mental health. It is when you can reframe negatives into positives and make meaning from hard events that you will become aware of your healing.

For whom are you writing?

As someone who has been writing the narrative of my grief journey for over a year now, I recommend that you write for yourself first. If you want to share the stories with others, do so with caution. It is a beautiful, vulnerable thing to share the stories you are comfortable sharing but know why you want others to read them.

Do you want them to feel pity for you, to sympathize with you, or to learn from you?

A writer is working on his tablet with a digital pen, on a light-coloured desk with a tabby cat lying on it.

I eventually added a paragraph to the end of each story I write about grief or about my late husband to remind the readers that I write to let those who are grieving know they are not alone, to encourage discussion on the topic of grief, and to let them know writing is part of my healing process.

I didn’t plan on writing my story for self-healing, but it turns out that is exactly what happened.

Amber Williams is a storyteller, photographer, nurse, entrepreneur, and will soon be a health and life coach as well as a cancer consultant. Follow her on LinkedIn for more healing stories.


3 comentários

Jane Hardjono
Jane Hardjono
06 de dez. de 2023

This resonates. I wrote for at least a year around the impending loss and subsequent loss of my child. It was a heart-wrenching, restorative experience and yes, storytelling healed me.

Amber Williams
Amber Williams
07 de dez. de 2023
Respondendo a

Jane, thank you for sharing your experience with this. I can't imagine the pain of a child's death. Being able to write about it and process the events must have been hard. I'm glad you found healing through it. 💜

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