How You Story Your Life Experience Matters to Fulfillment

“A man is always a teller of stories. He sees everything that happens to him through them. And, he tries to live his life, as if he were telling a story.” Jean Paul Sartre

All of us have a point of view on the things that happen to us that we articulate in the form of a story about our lives. We story family struggles, romantic relationships, friendships and the ups and downs of our life circumstance and the ways we manage them. We also story the funny things that happen to us throughout the day.

Our personal stories talk to our goals and aspirations, fears, identity and self-worth, the roles we play in life, the way we handle adversity and the values and beliefs that we hold dear. We may not choose the events that make up our stories, but the meanings we give to them are ours alone.

It is easy enough to narrate the good times in our lives into meanings that fit with our goals and dreams. But, it’s harder to make sense of experiences that turn our lives upside down and challenge all that we know, believe and trust. How are we to understand such experiences? But, even more, how do we integrate their meanings into a cohesive narration of our lives that positively moves us forward in life rather than keeps us stuck in the past?

Take, for example, the 2006 scandal that involved well-known American Preacher Ted Haggard. The scandal alleged that Preacher Haggard had sexual relations with his male masseuse and that he also used the drug crystal methamphetamine. This scandal forced Preacher Ted Haggard to resign as senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Until this scandal broke, I didn’t know much about the Preacher Ted Haggard. But, in the days that followed, I learned a lot about his spouse Gayle Haggard and how she coped with this difficult time in her life. The questions that weighed on Gayle Haggard’s mind in the days and months that followed the downfall of her husband must have been heavy, to say the least. How does she make sense of what happened? How does she make sense of the contradictions in her husband’s behavior? Does she stay or does she leave? How is she going to story this extremely difficult life event into a narrative about her life that keeps her moving forward?

In an interview Gayle Haggard talked about the effects of the scandal on her marriage and on her emotional well being. She asked herself: “Who am I going to be in this story? What do I really believe, and what do I really value, and what’s worth fighting for, for me?”  I could not have asked better questions of her, if she had been my patient. She reflected upon the makings of a fulfilling and worthwhile life. Could she make sense of what has happened relative to the life she had created thus far and the life that she wants for herself in the future? These are exactly the questions that we need to ask ourselves when circumstance has challenged everything we thought was certain and real.

Gayle Haggard decided that her marriage, as she had known it, was worth the fight. She decided to story this hard time in her life as a wife who would fight for her marriage and the faith, beliefs and values for which she stands. This is how she preferred to narrate this difficult life chapter into her entire life story. Her meanings helped her to move forward with her life rather than to stay stuck in the past.

Is Your Story Moving You Forward or Keeping You in the Past?

The problem is that not all personal stories are the same in terms of promoting our welfare, in helping us to meaningfully move from points A to B in our lives, and to do so in a way that allows us to endure, learn and grow. We may prefer understandings that limit our development from one stage of life to another. Our stories may emphasize blame and victimization that pin us to the past. Gayle Haggard could have blamed her husband for ruining their marriage and her life. I’m sure she felt this way, at times. But, she concluded that divorcing was not the story that she wanted to tell. It doesn’t matter if she was right or wrong, or if you or I would do the same. What matters is that she is expressing a personal point of view that at the end of the day is the story that Gayle Haggard wants to tell. Only she will know down the road what this chapter means to the rest of her life. She is the one who will have to make sense of the decisions that she’s made with regard to her personal story.

The Personal Story Approach To Change

There are two approaches to personal change. We can change our behavior or change the way we talk about the things that happen to us.

The personal story approach to change says that a change in the way we story experiences will change our behavior as well.

This approach is at the heart of a popular psychotherapy called Narrative Therapy. Here, people learn how to reflect upon and organize their thoughts and feelings into a meaningful dialogue about their lives and the things that happen to them.

But no two meanings are alike. Some meanings positively move us forward in life and others keep us stuck. Meanings we give to experience that emphasizes authentic needs and desires and that make sense with the total features of the lives we’ve lived thus far tend to move us forward in life. There’s a certainty of heart, mind and spirit that leaves little room for doubt, with meanings that positively mobilize us.

Settling on one meaning over another isn’t always easy. Sometimes, we have to engage with very painful self-reflections to make sense of difficult times. We are not just looking to turn lemons into lemonade, by ignoring negatives or putting a positive spin on things. The reflective process asks us to identify who we will be in a story (hero or victim) and the beliefs, values and meanings for which we are fighting. This can be a daunting psychological and spiritual task, indeed. We have to:

Firstconsider your thoughts and feelings, even the ones that you may be trying to avoid or deny. I’m sure Gayle Haggard had feelings of betrayal, fear and doubt. She may have wondered why she didn’t know this part of her husband. Or, she realized that she always knew this about him, but chose to look the other way. Whatever she found, she had to face her inner world squarely.

Secondgenerate the understanding and meaning from this process that opens you to the role that best serves the aims, goals, and purpose of your whole life. “Who are you?” is the question here. You may decide that you need to exercise more self-oriented aims at this stage of your life. Perhaps, you decide that a complete game change is wrong for you, because you’ve been living the life that feels most authentic to you. I don’t know the details of Gayle Haggard’s thought process. But, from her decision, I can imagine it went something like this: I have lived by the religious principles of forgiveness. What matters most to me now? Is it my hurt and disillusionment with my husband or the principles on which I have based my life? It seems by her story that Gayle Haggard is fighting more for her principles than even her marriage. This is how she understands and gives meaning to this hard time in her life.

Third, pick up on the stories already inside of you that perhaps you have forgotten, missed, or lost. These stories that have been in pushed into the background of your awareness often contain aspects of your personality that you can use to start a new chapter in your life. Many years ago, a patient of mine was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness that required him to have a stem cell transplant. This led to a series of losses that led to him being wrongfully terminated from his job, just at the time when he needed their support. He was a very successful businessman, pulling down six figures a year. Everything about this man screamed Wall Street. But, so much had changed for him at this time. He had to reach deep inside of himself to find parts, lost in the decisions that he had made in life so far.

He recovered the teacher in himself. He had never really thought about himself in this way. But, in his early teenage years, my patient started to care for others, when he lost his father. This thrust him in the role of taking care of his mother and siblings who never assimilated fully into the American culture. He helped to support them financially and taught them how to get their needs met within the American culture. The teacher emerged into his awareness. Well, to cut to the quick, he began to work for a non-profit agency that found donor matches for people who needed stem cell transplants. And, of course, with his business savvy, you better believe, he helped this agency grow to a newer, more prosperous level. This new story line was truly a game changer for him.

The story framework that results from these three steps should serve as a positive bridge to your future. This is the story line that will be most instrumental to your personal growth.

How will you know it? Your heart, mind and spirit resonates deeply with this story and the body relaxes around it.

Remember, no two stories are alike in the way that they affect personal meaning and growth. Be thoughtful in the way you dialogue about personal experiences. The stories we tell about our experiences are all we really have at the end of our lives. Whether we end our lives with integrity or despair often hinges upon how we’ve narrated the events of our lives. Be sure the stories you decide to tell give you as many options from which to carve out the next chapter of your life.

I hope today’s post gave you much food for thought about your own lives. You deserve the best life possible. Make sure how you are formulating your life experiences into a personal story allows you to endure, learn and grow, and to narrate the psychologically and spiritually healthiest version of the life that you are living.

If you liked today’s post, please say so by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. You can also Tweet or Google+1 today’s article to let friends know about it. Warm regards to you. Deborah.

Tags: , , , , ,

7 Responses to “How You Story Your Life Experience Matters to Fulfillment”

  1. avatar Irram says:

    Really nice and much helpful

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Thank you Irram for taking the time to comment. I’m glad you liked this post. Warm regards Deborah

  2. avatar Manju says:

    Dear Dr. Khoshaba,

    I enjoyed this posting. I never thought about episodes in our lives being like chapters of stories in a book. What you say makes a lot of sense. As we move through life, we learn from experiences of the past, and hopefully grow and change to become stronger and more resilient. Sometimes, it is very hard to understand why something happened. It is like the “story” has to unfold and reveal the “why” to you over time.

    Best regards always,

    • avatar Dr. Deborah says:

      Thank you so much Manju. I love what you add that we cannot always understand why something has happened to us in the moment but as our story unfolds, the meanings become more clear. Thank you for your deep understanding. Warmly Deborah.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Manju, I know, it’s interesting to think about our lives as being chapters of our life story that we are writing as we are living life. I love the point you are making that it gives us permission to wait for our story to unfold so we can understand better the why of things that have happened. Thank you for taking time to comment today. Be Well. Warmly Deborah.


Leave a Reply

Meet Dr. Deborah Khoshaba

She Has A Gift For You.

Psychology in Everyday Life on Facebook

Getting to Oz: The personal journey to your true self

So You Want To Date A Narcissist?

Sacrifices You Must Make, To Do So!

What behaviors are taking you hostage?

Make a choice to live freely, fully and creatively.

Love is Being Present

How To Get More Love Into Your Life

Our Sponsors and Support Mental Health Sites


All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. This blog is not meant to professionally treat people psychologically. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. These terms and conditions of use are subject to change at anytime and without notice.

PIEL is PayPal Verified

Official PayPal Seal