The Power of Story

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by Shane Fookes, MA LPC Intern

Stories Give Us Meaning and Message

Think about your favorite movie or book. What is it you like about it? Maybe you like the adventure of something newly discovered or explored. Or maybe you’re a hopeless romantic and like the intricate interplay between a man and a woman (especially when you see the spark between them before they do). Or perhaps you relish a fight between good guys and bad guys.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

We love stories because we’re storied creatures. Everything we think, say, feel, and do fits within a story. In other words, your life has all the elements of a story, such as plot, characters, setting, theme, and genre. Recent neuroscientific research has established that our brains function as “story processors” more than “logic processors.” All day, every day, your brain is telling you stories. Some stories tell you what you “should” be doing right now; other stories describe what people might be thinking about you. Some stories provide an interpretation for what happened in your past while other stories predict what will happen in your future.

Take a moment right now to consider: what kind of story is your brain telling you right now?

Every day, your brain takes in input from your senses, memories, and other data and weaves it into a narrative. This is the source of what’s called bias. The scientific field of epigenetics explains how nature and nurture weave together a dominant story you tell yourself. And the story didn’t begin the day you were born either. Many aspects of your story tie back to events in your family history. For example, you may react differently than other people in a particular situation because your mom lost her eyesight when she was young or your dad left before you were born. 

As a Child, Our Brains Developed from Story and Narration

In your earliest years, your brain exploded with new neurons collecting, absorbing, and categorizing vast amounts of information from inside and outside your body. It assimilated all that information into a dominant narrative in order to make sense of it.

Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

After this narrative was shaped (mostly before 5 years of age), your brain continued to collect more and more information. But rather than forming a new narrative, your brain used the new data to reinforce the dominant narrative, like ruts forming in a road from repeated use.

Parental and Caregiver Relationships Matter

The quality of your relational attachment with authority figures in your life (particularly your parents) played a crucial role in this narrative formation. Traumatic events and how your attachment figures responded to those traumas also played a crucial role.

The Story May Not Make Sense

Here’s why this matters: often you do not understand the story you are living out at a particular moment in time. You may also not realize other storylines are possible. This is especially important to consider when you find yourself struggling, dealing with difficult circumstances, or otherwise in pain.

Often the story your brain tells you during such times is inadequate and unhelpful. The story may even be increasing your pain! According to research, up to 80% of your thoughts have at least some element of negative content. Thus, when you automatically and unquestioningly believe the story these negative thoughts tell, you can feed anxiety, depression, and other kinds of mental and emotional distress.

Here’s the good news: you can train your brain to tell a different story!

You start by recognizing and naming the current story (or stories) your brain is telling you. Maybe it’s the “I’m a loser” story or the “bad things always happen to me” story or the “I’ll never be loved for who I am” story. Recognizing and naming the story begins the process of disarming it.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Next, ask yourself, “How else could the people involved and the circumstances tell a different story?” Then ask yourself, “If I knew this story had a hopeful ending, how might I see this present moment differently?”

Lastly, choose your next actions to align with this alternative storyline. Choosing a new storyline over and over will reinforce it, thus creating new “ruts” in your brain!

If you get “stuck” in your story, Christian counseling can help.

Even the best of us get stuck in our dominant stories. A good counselor can help tremendously by providing a safe space to identify your dominant story (or stories) and help you see and explore alternative stories. Through a collaborative therapeutic experience, you can identify what is changeable in your story and feel empowered to choose a path forward.

Consider Online Therapy in Oregon for Christian Counseling

Our Clackamas and Hillsboro-based counselors are excited to work with you, wherever you are in Oregon. Your relationships can thrive again. We can help you get back on track in a way that aligns with your faith and values. When you are ready to start online Christian counseling in Oregon, follow these simple steps:

  1. Learn about our therapy team in Hillsboro and our caring counselors in Clackamas
  2. Schedule an appointment with your preferred therapist, or contact us with questions
  3. Feel more connected to the important people in your life

Other Mental Health Services at Life Discovery Counseling in Oregon

If you are in Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus, or Hillsboro, we can help you in person at one of our comfortable therapy clinicsChristian counseling is the cornerstone of our approach to therapy. Not only do we see adults, but children in counseling too. We also work with depression treatmentanxiety therapytrauma therapy and PTSD treatmentrelationship issuesmarriage problems, and postpartum counseling. No matter where you are in the state, we can provide the support you need with online therapy in Oregon. Once you’re ready to start, we’re ready to meet you. Let’s connect!

Headshot of Shane Fookes, Christian counselor in Clackamas, OR

About the Author

Shane Fookes is a graduate of Western Seminary’s Counseling program and a Licensed Professional Counseling Intern. He was previously a pastor and is still involved in churches, and writes about marriage and relationship issues, anxiety, depression, and spiritual development.

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