Brené Brown makes me think. She is good at that. She unwraps complicated ideas in accessible ways and offers do-able, healing approaches for well-being. Recently she wrote about the vital choice of owning our stories. Here’s an excerpt from her blog:
When we push down hurt or pretend that struggle doesn’t exist, the hurt and struggle own us.
I’ve learned that writing a brave new ending in our personal lives means:
- We can’t smooth over hurt feelings in our families. It’s too easy for stockpiled hurt to turn into rage, resentment, and isolation. We must talk about it. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we’re tired.
- We can’t pretend our family histories of addiction and mental health issues don’t exist if our hope is to write a new story and pass that legacy of emotional honesty and health down to our children.
- We must own our failures and mistakes so that we can learn and grow. It’s hard but I’ve seen how it becomes part of a family and organizational cultures and unleashes innovation and creativity. It doesn’t feel comfortable, but courage rarely does.
Owning our stories is standing in our truth.” ~ Brené Brown
There are many ways to own your story. And the process is always multi-dimensional; that is, to own the story we must share the story.
To share our story we need a witness.
When I think about my childhood, I am flooded with feelings of loneliness, confusion, and a general sense of being erased. My voice, my wishes, my choices were shushed, minimized, or dismissed. No doubt my very open approach to sharing — on social media, through this blog, and face-to-face with trusted dear ones — springs from a desire to live a life that is not invisible, but rather one that is witnessed.
The importance of a witness cannot be overstated. Not only does being witnessed validate an experience, when we move thoughts and feelings from our head or heart and put them out in the world, we find greater clarity. As Kate Northrup notes, when we are witnessed we find ourselves. Kate offers a list of healthy, helpful ways ways to be seen and heard:
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Communicating with dear friends via voice memo. (There’s an app on your iPhone called Voice Memos. Record and text it to a friend! Way better than a voicemail because you can talk as long as you want. Plus, they don’t always require a response. Often sending the message is enough.)
- Journaling. Yes, we can witness ourselves. It’s a beautiful feedback loop that’s never exhausted.
- Blogging and other forms of writing for public consumption. I write to help you and to help me.
- Women’s Circles or other semi-structured settings where sharing is encouraged.
- Social media. While I don’t personally tend toward long, extensive posts on Facebook, I often read the pages of friends who do. I appreciate their stories and how they provoke new ways of thinking. I do, however, love sharing my life via pictures. Instagram, I find, is a particularly useful tool for sharing things I love and also being witnessed. (Plus, I love witnessing others’ lives this way.)
- Talking it out with people I love. This can be done in person, on the phone, via text, emails, or even snail mail. No matter the medium, though, it’s salve to the soul.
No matter who you are, you need to be witnessed. It doesn’t make you weak or needy. It makes you human.
Getting our need to be seen, heard, and witnessed met in sane, healthy ways makes us not only feel whole, it makes us so much more pleasant to be around.
You, your story, and your life matter. And anything that matters deserves to be witnessed.” ~ Kate Northrup
Like Kate, I write to help you and I write to help me. I also believe that one way to redeem struggle is to turn it into service. And so I share what I call the The Body Catalog Project because it might help you face the unmanageable or unexpected in your life.
As a way to manage the unmanageable, The Body Catalog Project chronicles changes to my physical and emotional self before, during and after surgery that is scheduled for late July.
Beatriz Mejia-Krumbein, my friend and photographer-magician, took me to Joshua Tree National Park for part of this adventure. We worked with her two assistants: Megan James and Adrianna Matheus. Carrie Specht continued documenting the project for a movie. For two swiftly flowing hours, Beatriz and her assistants created a safe place for me in a dramatic landscape. Here’s a peak at what they captured:
Talk about empowering! Art does that. Working with supportive people does that. Telling your story does that. Being witnessed well does that.
Over to you:
You own your story, right? In what ways do you let your story be seen and heard? Tell me. I’d be honored to be a witness.