What are the benefits of storytelling when grieving?
How can you strengthen resilience or cope through stories?
What storytelling skills can you use to share your life story?
What Is Resilience?
There are many amazing ways that personal storytelling helps heal grief. One of those ways is to create resilience. So, what is resilience?
The first-known use of the word resilient dates back to 1674, and 1804 for the word resilience.
Merriam-Webster describes the definition of resilience as follows:
1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress (or elasticity)
2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
So, the concept of resilience is a common human behavior that’s been around since the beginning of time.
Resilience is the ability to cope with grief, pain, discomfort, unwanted outcomes, disaster, trauma, setbacks, disappointments, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other things less desirable things in life. Some people seem to be born naturally resilient—and even shine in times of challenge and distress—while others may tend to feel overwhelmed or need to work a little harder at it. If you feel that resilience doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t worry. It can be practiced, and it can be achieved through the adoption of several influences and behaviors.
Many resilient people have a strong community of social support through family and friends that help bolster them in times of distress. Resilient people may also rely on other factors to get them through difficult times.
- Remaining optimistic about outcomes
- Thinking positively about themselves and their abilities
- The ability to make realistic plans and follow through
- Looking inward for control and focus
- Being a good communicator
- Seeing oneself as a fighter rather than a victim
- Managing emotions effectively
- Having high emotional intelligence
The Healing Power of Storytelling
Sometimes we have a narrative that we hold deep inside of us. It can be a story from the past or it can be a recent story that has caused hurt. Or you may be dealing with feelings surrounding the loss of a friend or family member. As humans, we want to try to protect ourselves from pain. And some of us would rather not burden others with our stories, fears, worries, and feelings. These reactions are common in human nature.
But as many therapists will say, it does us no good to hold feelings in. Expression, in whatever way is healthy and necessary, is the best way to deal with our internal emotions. One of the most beneficial ways to heal from loss or pain is through the power of stories and storytelling.
According to PsychCentral.com,
“The healing effects of narratives can be achieved in both verbal and written formats. (NCBI.nlm.nih.gov) Research has found that openly sharing one’s story verbally has a cathartic or purging effect that alleviates psychological distress. Similarly, writing about traumatic experiences and illnesses often helps to decrease symptoms.”
While psychology professionals agree that stories and storytelling can be a great part of therapy, the approach may not be for everyone. And that’s OK. You may find that other creative outlets are more applicable to you.
What Kinds of Storytelling Are Most Cathartic?
Healing through storytelling can take place in several ways. Some people may want to talk out their feelings and emotions with others. They may feel comfortable sharing with another friend or family member, a therapist, a psychologist, pastor or clergy member, family doctor, etc. And they may need to tell their narrative many times, not just once. Those who are close to someone suffering with grief or loss may need to be patient as the person works through their loss the best way they can. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to provide a listening ear without judgement or without trying to “solve their problem” or “make them better.”
Storytelling through writing can be another way to promote the healing process. Written and verbal stories convey both values and emotions, and they can reveal the differences and similarities between each person’s knowledge and experiences. Writing about grief can take many forms, and the method of writing or creative expression chosen is personal for each person. If you want to heal from a loss you are currently feeling, you may want to select one of these writing methods. If one doesn’t feel right to you, try another.
Journal writing: Writing your stories and feelings in a bound journal. You may choose to write daily or weekly. When your journal is full, you can buy another writing book to continue your process. You can keep the journal, or you may choose to destroy it.
Stream of consciousness writing: This type of writing is very simple. Stream of consciousness writing means sitting down and writing your story and whatever comes to mind without cognitive thought, organization or editing. Just write what you’re thinking and feeling—and don’t hold back.
Song writing: You may prefer expressing yourself and your stories through penning a song, with or without music. The point is to let your feelings out through creative expression.
Poetry: You may choose to write one long poem or a series (even a book) of poems that all relate to your loss and your loved one.
Book: Do you enjoy writing for adults, teens or children? Then book writing may be up your alley. You may choose to reveal your stories and feelings through fictional characters in a real-life or fantasy setting. Of course, there is no obligation to publish your book. You can simply use this method as a cathartic way to heal your heart and soul.
Digital storytelling: Put your experience online to share your stories with others who may be going through a similar hardship. Start a website, blog or social media channel to share your experience and to help and communicate with others.
23 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Resilience
Aside from social and emotional support through community, as mentioned earlier, there are still other ways that assist in maintaining a positive outlook and staying emotionally resilient. Many of these methods are related to how we look at and treat ourselves and how we maintain our health and well-being.
- Having self-respect
- Eating a heathy diet
- Staying physically active
- Striving to discover more about life and the world around you
- Taking care of your mental health by reading
- Educating yourself
- Having realistic expectations
- Setting realistic goals
- Ensuring proper sleep habits
- Speaking up respectfully and non-judgmentally when something bothers you
- Being still and quiet
- Practicing breathing
- Being grateful
- Facing problems rather than avoiding them
- Being open to change
- Surrounding yourself with empathetic and positive people
- Being positive rather than negative
- Cultivating a sense of humor
- Fostering problem-solving skills
- Seeing challenges in both work and life as opportunities
- Practicing acceptance rather than fear
- Changing your posture (standing and sitting upright rather than slouching)
- Enjoying life!
The Importance of Resilience
Resilience is important to human and individual survival. Why? Because there is always change. Nothing ever remains the same. There will always be problems and unexpected circumstances. We can’t predict or guarantee the future, and everything doesn’t always go smoothly or as planned. People who dig deep and find more resilience tend to experience traumatic events differently than those who are less resilient. And they tend to be those who find more success in life, roll with the punches, and enjoy more overall happiness (despite the obstacles that they experience along the way).
Can Resilience Be Taught?
According to psychology professor Martin Seligman in the Harvard Business Review, there is substantial evidence from well-controlled studies that skills which increase resilience, including positive emotion, engagement, and meaning, can in fact be taught.
Resilient people can be born or nurtured. Like many traits, resilience is an internal behavior, which can come more naturally to some. Yet, however innate resilience may be, it can also be taught through mindful modeling of behavior and creative leadership. When children and young people see that a parent doesn’t fall apart when a problem or trauma comes along, they can learn that every situation is fleeting… that it’s not the end of the world and that life goes on, whether or not a problem is solved today, tomorrow or perhaps never.
How Caregivers Can Use Storytelling
The healing power of storytelling works both ways. As a caregiver, you may be spending a lot of time with someone who has many stories to tell. Perhaps they don’t want to be forgotten, or they don’t want to forget their own past. Either way, caregivers are in a unique position to listen to those around them.
Listening to someone’s narrative offers the opportunity to connect on an emotional level. When you look at someone on the surface, you may not immediately note the value that they have to share. However, when you stop and listen, you begin to learn a lot about a person’s past and how they came to be the person they are today.
Storytelling promotes a culture of community, influences change, and can create better person-centered care, which then leads to improved care services. In addition, as the listener, you gain a greater understanding as well as empathy for others and personal reflection by building better rapport and trust with the storyteller. Storytelling can empower both the storyteller and the listener, plus encourage personal growth, promote emotional healing, and build resilience.
In the end, strengthening one’s resilience through storytelling builds connections, bonds, friendships, and relationships that you may never have had before. So, share away and see what the world brings you!