Telling Your Story in Therapy

By Elizabeth Myers.

In my recent series of articles, I have been writing about why it is so important for all of us to tell our stories as we connect with the people around us. I have written about what an honor it is to listen to other people's stories. And I have asked: If you were to tell your life story, which story would you tell?

In this article, I would like to share what it is like, and how it is different, to tell your story in therapy. For most of us, when we come to the pretty big decision that we need help, it is in part because we feel that we are not being heard in our relationships, in part because that way we are being heard by the listener is through the filters of his or her own experiences, judgments and hurts, in part because there are often stories that we have never told anyone.

Can you imagine someone listening to you who hears you without judgment, but rather with compassion and with the knowledge to give you the tools to understand and heal yourself? I used to think that it was completely idiotic to pay someone to listen to me. But when I began counseling, I was desperate, indeed I had realized that no one had ever truly heard me before and tried to understand the many facets that make up who I am. There is no question that there were people in my life who loved me deeply when I started therapy. But they saw me through their lenses of love and need and sometimes denial of what I had experienced.

My story in therapy started with “I don't know why I am here. This was probably followed, knowing me, by a lot of tears,. My next sentence was most probably Life is just too hard. It took me weeks to even get to my story, because I did not know what my story was. Does that sound odd? It should not , because to tell your story, you have to know who you are, what you value, and you have to understand how your past experiences effect who you are today. I remembered the lack of safety at home, I remembered being beaten by my brother, I remembered the absentee father (too busy with work), my overwhelmed mother, my loneliness in a culture that was so different than the one in the home in which I was being raised. But there was a lot I did not remember at first, indeed it took until I was married for me to remember the incest and how I would barricade myself in my room at night to keep myself safe. It took until I had a child before I became empowered enough to rise in protest at the thought of how I had been victimized. My story in therapy was a long one, and indeed, it continues to be an evolving story. That is a good thing, because now I can share my story and help others see that healing can happen and does happen through the telling of your story.

In telling my story in counseling, I learned who I was, why I did the things I did, why I felt the way I did, and even more importantly, by learning who I was, I was able to start consciously changing how I reacted, interacted and to find purpose in my life. When you understand why you do what you do, you can change it (if you want to). Without that understanding, you are more apt to react with feelings and actions which are really an old you. Telling your story, understanding your story, having your story heard, frees you to become the person you want to be.