You might not often get a chance to tell the story of your life, but when you do how would you tell it? Recent research has shown that the way you tell the story of your life has an impact on your personality and your well-being.
In this post, we take a look at how our personal narratives dictate who we are and we look at ways we can alter how we interpret our life for the better.
What Is Narrative Psychology?
Personal narratives fall within the realm of narrative psychology. Narrative psychology is concerned with how humans create meaning from stories and how they portray themselves in the story of their life. Narrative psychologists are interested in how we choose to tell our personal narratives, how this changes over time, and what this reveals about our personality.
Why Is the Story of Your Life Important?
The story of your life isn’t only present when you tell it to others, it is also a personal narrative that exists within us whether we recognize it or not.
When we think about our past we are, in fact, telling ourselves the story of our life. How we interpret that story is, according to researchers at Western Washington University, reveals, constructs and sustains ourselves through time. And it is how we make sense of the world around us.
The story of your life is important because it is a product of events, interpretations, and facts that you have picked out from your years on this earth and pieced together to make meaning. What we choose to focus on, and how we tell it can reflect who we are.
How Can the Story of Your Life Impact Who You Are?
So, what does it mean that the story of our life reflects who we are? Let’s look at an example of a memory. Imagine that you had gone through a difficult time in your career. You were made redundant and left without a job. During this time you discovered that your real interests lay elsewhere and you found yourself pursuing a different and more fulfilling career path.
How would you tell this story? Would you focus on the negative part or would you interpret this time in your life as a positive turning point in your life?
Those who tell their life stories with more of a positive slant, that see light in the dark moments, are more likely to experience greater life satisfaction and better mental health. This is also true for those who give a sense of autonomy in their life story and mention meaningful relationships within their personal narrative.
On the other hand, reliving your experiences and telling stories containing more “contamination”, negativity and a lack of autonomy can relate to less life satisfaction and reduced well-being. This can also have an impact on the kind of person we continue to be and how we continue to view the world around us.
Adjusting Our Personal Narratives
In telling our own story we reveal how we see ourselves. It uncovers how we have interpreted events in our lives and whether or not we view them from a positive or a negative angle. Unsurprisingly, this has an impact on our well-being, life satisfaction, and our self-esteem. How many times have you compared your life with someone else and being left feeling inferior?
Such a thought pattern is unhelpful, and in re-framing our personal narrative we may be able to improve our outlook on life. One study of life stories asked volunteers to write their narrative in a more constructive way – following this these individuals showed greater goal persistence long after the experiment took place. This suggests that, in re-framing our personal narrative, we can improve our motivation and general satisfaction from day to day life.
Known as ‘narrative therapy’, individuals can be helped to re-interpret the story of their life and be assisted in seeing it in a more constructive and positive way.
In this respect, re-framing the story of your life is not dissimilar to the philosophical concept that life is what we make of it and that we construct our own realities. It is not surprising, therefore, that how we construct our own life affects who we are and how we view ourselves.
Take some time to think about the story of your life and how you have previously framed it for yourself and others.
See how any of the negative aspects could be re-framed into something that you learned from, whether it led you to meet a life-long friend or generally viewing it in a more constructive light.
Life certainly has its ups and downs and not all of it can be positive. But realizing when events are actually bad, or if you have just interpreted them in that way, will help you to learn about yourself, who you are and how you might be able to alter such perspectives for improved life satisfaction and well-being.
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