I am passionate about stories. My need to hear stories and read stories and study different methods of storytelling borders on obsessive. Since the time I could write, telling stories is all I have ever wanted to do. Countless books knock around in my head begging to be penned.
Our stories are the most powerful tool we have as a species. Stories teach us things when we don’t even know that we are learning. They are beautiful, enrapturing and, quite simply, magical.
I know that many writers, and even passionate readers, feel the same way. But a few years ago, I began to wonder more about the power of stories and if they could be used to consciously heal our lives.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Duh! Of course, stories have the power to help us heal our lives!”
But I am not just talking about how stories impact us.
I am talking about using stories as a strategy for healing.
Let me give you a bit of backstory.
I was in a severely abusive relationship for many years. He was my first boyfriend, and all his abuse became ingrained in my head as how love was supposed to be. Logically, of course, I knew that love was not supposed to be painful and aggressive, but trauma doesn’t associate with logic.
After I left him, I spent some years being single and raising my babies, essentially just loving life again. And, after a while, an amazing man came into my life. And that’s when my trauma scars reared their ugly heads. I spent the first year of our relationship in literal terror every single day. Not because my new partner was in anyway abusive, he was actually completely the opposite but because my fears and anxiety from my ex were wreaking havoc on my subconscious.
About a year into our relationship, I decided I needed to do something about all the pain I was going through. I began looking into coaches and healers, and they helped. But every coach I worked with took everything so damn seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I was serious about my healing. But I had been through so many hard things already that getting motivated to embrace another difficult undertaking was challenging.
After multiple coaches, I had a revelation.
I was working on my novel — editing it and really diving into the character development— when I realized I had written different aspects of myself into my work. Each character was essentially me.
I had channeled myself onto the page.
Once I realized that, I started thinking that maybe I could consciously view myself as a single character on a quest — just like in a story! And then maybe I could overlay what I learned onto my everyday life.
I tried it out. It worked. More than any of the programs that I had participated in. More than any of the “tools” I had been taught.
I could use my mind’s natural adoration of stories to teach myself concepts that were hard for me to grasp in real life due to my anxiety.
Anxiety is a fear-based mental health disorder. When you are anxious, fear consumes you. And everything makes you afraid — even healing.
Removing the fear from inside ourselves and putting it into a story creates an emotional distance that enables you to see things more clearly and with less fear. We are able to think of our fears objectively. Instead of trying to find our way through our pain, our fears, or our struggles, the character is the one navigating their way through them. The character is the one learning and healing.
We have used stories to learn from since we were small children, so if we use this method consciously, the effects ripple through our lives at an alarming rate. And it makes healing a heck of a lot more fun!
Those of us who are writers and readers have absorbed storytelling’s amazing super power without even knowing it. Because we actively visualize each scene every time we digest or scribe a story, we have a skill that some people never develop.
Visualization is the first step.
I encourage you, if you suffer from anxiety, or any mental struggles for that matter, to use this method. Visualize yourself as a character, any character. It doesn’t have to be a character you have written. It can help to imagine yourself in your favorite book or in the world of one of your favorite stories.
Then, whenever you have a huge (or even not so huge) hurdle coming up that you have to jump, visualize the major challenge that your character has to overcome as your villain,. But, just as in a story, have your character go on a quest to reach and defeat that villain.
As with any good quest, there will be small challenges to overcome on the way. Let’s say your “villain” is your sister’s wedding in a month, you really don’t like being around a bunch of people, and it is freaking you out. Start your quest with small things, like going to a friend’s get-together that you ordinarily would have avoided. Then, the first step has been taken.
By tackling your fears and struggles in this manner, you are tricking your mind into using your imagination to heal. Each time you do something small like this creates a challenge that your character — that you — have completed.
Here are some tips I have learned from doing this process.
- Get really clear on what villain you are taking on at any given time. Give that villain a distinct personality. It is a story, remember, so make them scary to your character.
- Physically create a visual representation of you as a character and of your villain to look at. It can be a drawing or picture of your or even an image cut out from a magazine. Just something for your brain to see.
- Find a buddy if you can. Having a spouse, a friend, or a coach who is also using the character method will make you talk about your characters and make the journey more real in your mind.
- Have fun! Don’t get bogged down — just enjoy the ride.
Stories can help you heal.
When I first began doing this, I was shocked at how quickly I was able to overcome some of my greatest fears. And I have seen this story method do the same for many others. It quickly became my mission to share this message of healing through stories with others. That is why I wrote my book and that is also why I became a coach — to show people that our imaginations are the most powerful tool we have at our disposal.
Storytelling and engaging with stories make us human, and our humanity is what makes our stories beautiful!
Lover of all things fantasy, magical, and nerdy, bestselling author of Damsel No More! Emily Davis (Network), applies the fun strategies of role play gaming to the life coaching world. After surviving years of relationship abuse, she made it her quest to help women slay their fears and create healthy relationships through the characters and stories that they love. Emily and her family, including dog and bunny muses, adventure from Lake Tahoe, Ca.
You can download a free copy of her bestselling book, Damsel No More! The Secret to Slaying Your Anxiety and Loving Again After an Abusive Relationship. Connect with Emily on Instagram and Twitter.
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