Have you ever noticed how much your children love telling stories?

My daughter and son love telling me stories about their adventures each day, whether it be an activity my daughter did during P.E., or my son talking to me about a crash he had on his scooter.

It seems that telling stories helps us make sense of what has happened in our life, and without the ability to tell stories, we often can’t make sense of important things.

One of the reasons I often encourage people I work with in counseling to do a family genogram is so that they can go back to the past and better understand how they were raised. And as they begin to process their genogram with me, usually through story, most gain crucial insight that helps them make better sense of their current circumstances.

Telling stories is powerful.

In The Whole-Brain Child, Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson write:

“Once again, one of the most effective ways to promote integration is to tell stories…Storytelling is also a powerful activity for integrating implicit and explicit memories.” (pp. 79)

And what exactly is implicit and explicit memory?

“Implicit memories are often positive and work in our favor, like when we fully expect to be loved by those around us simply because we’ve always been loved. If we count on our parents to comfort us when we’re hurting, since they’ve always done so before, that’s because a host of positive implicit memories have been stored up within us. But implicit memories can be negative as well, like when we’ve repeatedly had the opposite experience of our parents being irritated by or uninterested in our times of distress.

The problem with an implicit memory, especially of a painful or negative experience, is that when we aren’t aware of it, it becomes a buried land mine that can limit us in significant and sometimes debilitating ways…Even though we’re not aware of their origins in the past, implicit memories can still create fear, avoidance, sadness, and other painful emotions and bodily sensations…We shine the light of awareness on those implicit memories, making them explicit so that our child can become aware of them and deal with them in an intentional way.” (76-77)

Wow! That is such a powerful excerpt from the book. I can’t tell you the number of adults who are held prisoner by implicit memories (things that have happened to them in their past), but many are fearful of going back to the past and digging them up. I acknowledge it is a scary thing to do, but so freeing at the same time as those stories we tell help us integrate our brain in a new way. It wasn’t until I did my own personal work with a therapist that I was unable to uncover why I struggled with anxiety and stuttered a lot while speaking. I even wrote about this journey of freedom from anxiety and how you can look at your own anxiety in a positive way…to help you grow.

So one of the best gifts we can give our children so that they can become healthy adults, is to help them tell stories. And as they tell stories they are in the process of bringing those implicit messages into the light so that they don’t hold power over them in the darkness. Sometimes a journey to the past involves recalling painful implicit memories, but often if brings up positive ones as well.

So whether our kid’s memories are negative or positive, you can help them better make sense of them through story.

“Remember, your goal is to help your kids take the troubling experiences that are impacting them without their knowledge–the scattered puzzle pieces in their mind–and make those experiences explicit so that the whole picture in the puzzle can be seen with clarity and meaning.” (pp. 83)

[Please refer to pp. 79-83 in The Whole-Brain Child to get a real close look at this strategy through some examples]

[Image source: Middle Town Free Library]