Rewriting Personal Narratives to Heal

Discover how recreating your personal narrative can transform the patterns in your life, community and beyond.


| February 2016



identity narratives

Rewrite your personal narrative to transform your life, recover from illness and more.

Photo by Fotolia/Masson

In Remapping Your Mind (Bear & Company, 2015), Lewis Mehl-Madrona and Barbara Mainguy explain how the brain is specialized in the art of story-making and storytelling. The following excerpt from Chapter 1 discusses how personal and cultural narratives can contribute to poor health, and offers narrative therapy as a solution for reducing or eliminating symptoms of chronic illness.

Discovering the Stories We Live

The sufferer is a poet in search of metaphors adequate to express his predicament. —Laurence Kirmayer

These are all matters we need to know. It’s easy to become sick, because there are always things happening to confuse our minds. We need ways of thinking to keep things stable, healthy, beautiful. We try for a long life, but lots of things happen to us. So we keep our thinking in order by these figures and we keep our lives in order with the stories. —Dene Elder on the purpose of Dene String Designs

We are born into stories, stories about our conception, our history, about who we are supposed to become, about our parents and our families, about our world. We are born into the world as story listeners and storytellers. We learn language through story, by hearing and telling story. We make meaning of the world by telling ourselves stories about it. The skill of storytelling begins with the first moment we try to navigate our safe passage through turbulent life. At any given moment in time, whether we are aware of it or not, we bring these stories to mind to explain ourselves, to make decisions, to create change. All the time, though we may not be aware of it, we draw upon elements of all these tales to create a master story, a meta-story, a current explanation for our lives.

We all carry a “master identity narrative,” our version of the story we tell to explain ourselves. We tell short versions of this story to encourage others to see us as we wish to be seen. This master narrative or identity narrative is a synthesis of many stories we have accepted and repeated about ourselves. Sometimes we are only vaguely aware of the source of some of these stories. We can remember the point and forget where we got the story.

By the time we are young adults, we no longer are aware of the depth and complexity of the woven field of stories we inhabit, and we think our stories are simply “the truth.” This sense that they carry some kind of absolute weight leads us to think that they also are a condition for “the way we really feel.” This can lead to suffering that we may not understand. Illnesses unfold in us in the context of these stories.