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Our ability to tell a story is one of our most valuable and powerful gifts. It means reaching out to others to awaken interest and inspiration in both their hearts and minds. A story that touches the heart can open previously locked doors, behind, which are new levels of compassion and connection.

When we share our stories with one another it lessens our suffering and increases our joy

Other people’s stories can provide us with a roadmap of information and wisdom that helps us to better navigate life’s challenges. As the youngest member of my family, I became an excellent vicarious learner simply by listening closely to the stories rife with the losses and the gains of my three older siblings. Their stories deeply affected me. They delighted me, motivated me, and on countless occasions, even frightened me into making more informed choices for myself.

Emotional Transformation

The business world of marketing and communications has come to understand and utilize the value of storytelling as an effective vehicle for reaching the consumer. In his book, “Tell to Win,” Peter Guber, entrepreneur, educator and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, says that everyone, whether we like it or not, is in the “emotional transportation business.” He explains that by sharing stories of challenge, struggle, and resolution we are able to reach each other both mentally and emotionally. This process has the power to transport us from inaction to action. A story can transform us from skeptic to believer, from stranger to friend. He writes, “The heart and soul of each personal story makes the information inside of that story memorable, resonant, and actionable.”

In a cover article for Harvard Business Review, Guber says that in filmmaking, it isn’t the special effects of the digital revolution that matter the most. He believes what matters most is the ability of the storyteller to emotionally connect with the listener. He wrote, “State of the art technology is a great tool for capturing and transmitting words, images, and ideas, but the healing power of storytelling resides most fundamentally in “state-of-the heart” technology—the oral tradition that engages the hearts of both the storyteller and listener.”

Stories Can Lift, Heal, and Connect Us

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When sharing stories of our healthful, lifestyle practices, testimonials can magnetically draw us to one another and help us to endure the chaos of change, celebrate and freeze-frame moments of joy, and most importantly, remind us that when loss lands in our lap, we are not alone.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that storytelling can even improve the blood pressure of people with hypertension. Two hundred and ninety-nine hypertensive individuals were divided into two groups: One group watched peers share their stories describing their personal experiences with high blood pressure. They shared lessons learned and strategies for coping. The other group watched health related information. The group that had been exposed to the stories of others showed improvement while the other group did not. The researchers concluded, “The storytelling intervention produced substantial and significant improvements in blood pressure for patients with baseline uncontrolled hypertension.”

Stories Increase Our Joy

Poet, best-selling author, and Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes grew up with parents who could neither read nor write. What they did pass on to her was a strong storytelling tradition. Through the use of storytelling, she powerfully assisted those in Littleton, Colorado, to grieve, endure, and mend following the tragic shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. In an article she wrote afterwards for O magazine she explained, “As a Cantadora, a keeper of the old stories in the Latina tradition, I have understood since childhood that stories are medicine. They are powerful unguents, bandages, plasma; they are antibiotics, sinew for sewing; they offer the needed return to sanity.”

Expressing what matters most to us can be a gateway for healing. When we share our stories with one another it lessens our suffering and increases our joy while bonding us together in the process. In a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers from UCLA examined the interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events with others. The studies showed that, “communicating personal, positive events with others was associated with increased daily positive affect and well-being, above and beyond the impact of the positive event.”

In another study, researchers at the University of Rochester found that sharing positive events with others contributes to building interpersonal connections. They concluded, “Sharing good news with others increases the value of those events, especially when others respond enthusiastically…promoting the development of trust and prosocial orientation toward the other.”

Sharing our feelings through our stories takes courage. Just ask anyone who has participated in a support group. By taking a risk in sharing their story, group members learn over time that it is safe to be open and vulnerable. They willingly expose their fears as well as their delights, their shortcomings and their hard won wisdom. This generous exchange of transparency results in an emotional contagion of trust and belonging.

The personal stories of those who have benefited from group support speak for themselves. Ed, for example, was diagnosed with heart disease in 1987. He underwent bypass surgery and several stents. After reading Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, he traveled from New York to California to attend an Ornish Program. Upon his return home he started a support group that continues to this day. He says, “Running the group has been the catalyst for amazing moments over the years. Recently, a group member came up to me and said, “You know, Ed, I think you saved my life. And I really, truly want you to know how much I appreciate that.” Hearing that floored me. Nothing in the world could make me feel better than hearing those words.”

Our stories form the fabric of our lives. Centuries later we still come together to recount the sacred stories contained in our holy books. On holidays we gather to reminisce about the stories that form our family legend. Day by day we invite friends to the kitchen table where our stories connect us through laughter or tears and sometimes both in the same sitting.

Perhaps poet and political activist, Muriel Rukeyser summed it up best when she said, “The Universe is made up of stories, not atoms.”

How have you benefited by sharing your story and listening to the stories of others?



Contributed by

Mimi O' Connor
Group Support Specialist

Hearts linked, together we heal…

Better Health Begins With You...

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