© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Central Standard

What Your Story Says About You


You know the phrase "that’s my story and I’m sticking to it?" Don’t! On this Monday's Central Standard, learn how changing the way you tell your story can help free you from your past.

Our regular guest Dr. Bruce Liese joins us today to discuss a person’s life story as they tell it. He says if there’s something you don’t like about your own life story you can re-reflect on it. By changing our personal narratives, we are no longer salves to our past, we can have a better idea of our purpose on this earth, and be set on a path to better mental health. We'll hear how this plays out in scenarios of personal healing, on a date, or in a cover letter.

Dr. Bruce Liese, KU Family Medicine

What’s the main theme of your narrative (life story)? How do you change your life story when you tell it (to yourself or others)? Have you ever successfully changed your life story? If so, how did you change it? E-mail us at centralstandard@kcur.org, or tweet us @kcurCST.


I. What is a narrative?

A) It's your life story as you tell it – to yourself and others. Because it's about your life - it changes over time and from context to context. Your narrative is all about your identity – your real and ideal self.

B) There are as many narratives as there are people on the planet. Since your narrative reflects your personality there are those who have happy narratives, sad narratives, playful narratives, angry narratives, fearful narratives.  For some people the first thing talked about is how they’ve been wronged, always seeing themselves as victims: "poor me" "someone's done me wrong".

C) The content of you’re narrative depends on what led to telling your story in the first place.  You adapt your narrative to your audience, context, mood, and reasons for telling your story.  For the most part your narrative shouldn’t change much.

II. Under what circumstances do you tell your narrative?

A) In public social situations - meeting new people out in the community, at events (e.g., parties, clubs, etc.), on public transportation.

B) As you enter into an intimate relationship - When people fall in love their narrative is somewhat idealized. It's not likely to include all the dirt.  So the process of dating and engaging and marrying should involve getting to the truth and even questioning the other person about the truth

C) When applying for a job – you’re asked to give a narrative of yourself that completely conforms to what the company is looking for – Bruce says don’t do that – don’t do that – because when you get to the job and it’s not really you, you’re going to hate your job. Don’t make up something that’s untrue – because you’re going to be expected to be you forever.

D) Online - social media – Wow, this is huge!

E) In the context of health care (physical and psychological) - telling your story to the healer.

III. Evidence that narratives are important:

A) StoryCorps - independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 40,000 interviews from nearly 80,000 participants.

B) Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons Program in Narrative Medicine - fortifies clinical practice with the narrative competence to recognize, absorb, metabolize, interpret, and be moved by the stories of illness. Through narrative training, the Program in Narrative Medicine helps doctors, nurses, social workers, and therapists to improve the effectiveness of care by developing the capacity for attention, reflection, representation, and affiliation with patients and colleagues.

C) The Telling Project - For veterans: "meaningful, nuanced, person-to-person conversations concerning issues of vital importance."

D) Warrior Writers- Also for veterans

IV. The psychology of narratives: Personality is the manifestation of memory.  Everything you do and think will be a result of your memories.

A) You don’t have to be a slave to your past (memories).  Of course the past can't be changed but your thoughts about the past (memories) can be changed. That’s what makes narratives exciting: their subjectivity.

B) Great example: "I was beaten as a child so now I can't trust people." versus "I was beaten as a child which taught me to have compassion for others." 

C) It's a mistake to see your life story as static (versus dynamic): "That’s my story and I’m sticking to it."

D) If there’s something you don’t like about your own life story rewrite it.

E) A big part of your narrative is that what you believe is NOT true:  "I'm not like them.  I could never do that!”

F) How can you convince yourself that a new narrative is true?  The same way you change any belief.  First understand that you can.

G) Epiphany: when something you never included in your narrative suddenly presents itself – and you never knew it before (“I’m not a victim!”).  It’s not a moment when you discover something new outside yourself -- that’s a Eureka moment.

V. Narratives and Mental Illness

A) Depression: "I've had such a sad life.  My sadness is inevitable. I'm a product of my past and my environment..."

B) Addictions: “When I quit smoking I become a monster!”

C) Sociopathy, narcissism, and other self-centered personalities: “If I don’t use others I’ll be used.”

VI. Healing by changing your narrative

A) Can the telling and rewriting of narratives be used as a tool for healing? Yes!

B)  Even concentration camp survivors vary in their narratives.

C) It’s all about finding meaning.  Look at it from other angles and find other new meaning. Don’t be satisfied with just telling the story.

D) Like everything else in life it takes discipline:

1. Journaling is a good thing to do.  If you want to be a happier person - journal about your problems and what you can do about them.  And if you want to be a miserable person - journal about everything that’s terrible in your life.

2. Talk to compassionate others, with a mind open to new interpretations.

3. Listen to others’ narratives and learn from them. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!!  We’re not just talking about talking.  We’re talking about listening to others.

4. Seek guidance from sources of wisdom (Friends, literature, professionals, teachers, spirituality, etc.)