Storytelling for Healing

Transform trauma through story
A small group discusses a Bible study curriculum.

The brightness of the crisp, clean white snow disappeared beneath my feet as I took each step. The quietness of the day broke with each breath I took and the sound of my heart beating. I heard my ancestors’ heartbeat, telling me I was not alone.

She had white hair and a soft smile with little creases around her eyes that always made me feel safe. In my memories, she is still present. I cannot hear her words, but she brings me warmth, like the sun, when I see her smile.

Sometimes I forget that she is a part of me, her strength and resilience, her loving nature, that lives within my soul as her gift to me. I carry her beautiful blueprint of life within my heart and mind.  

– “Alice” by Kelly Sherman-Conroy

Healing in action

Have you ever been so immersed in a narrative that you forget about your issues and disappear from all that troubles your heart and mind?

Do you know what it feels like to sit on the edge of your seat, waiting to hear what will be said next? What does it mean to find a glimmer of hope radiating through you with another person’s words?

It’s not just you. Storytelling is a robust and transformative tool for connecting people, breaking down walls, and healing wounds. What is it about storytelling that so captivates our hearts and minds? How do we use storytelling in an innovative way that creates healing and brings us to a reflective mindset that transforms our lives and relationships?

It helps to think about what storytelling is and how it’s designed, to appreciate better how we bring storytelling to our own lives before it is possible to comprehend why a beautiful story captivates us.

Transformation with framework

Expressing one’s unique experiences strengthens bonds and fosters a shared sense of belonging.

The art of storytelling is firmly founded in cultural traditions, and it encourages reflection among its listeners. Similarly, the practice of sharing stories to build community is growing. Societies can’t thrive without thriving communities, which may provide social support and be used to address and solve everyday difficulties.

Human libraries and story circles are examples of public storytelling events that aim to foster understanding, celebrate diversity, and unite people. Human Libraries, for instance, let people “read” a person’s life story by asking questions. These in-depth discussions aim to shatter preconceived notions and foster reflection.

Reacting to stories

A story’s creative force makes it more effective than just listing data. When you’re interested in something, you think more about it, which helps you remember it later. The brain’s love of stories can be the key to healing and transformation when that attention and recollection are controlled and used positively—furthering a deeper reflection on the storytelling.

In Lakota, we have a phrase, wičhózani, which is comprised of two elements: wičhó, meaning “everyone” and zani, meaning “someone who is living a prosperous life together.” During a time in my life when I was ill, I sought healing through a holy man. He explained that our lives could experience many difficult paths that we will have to endure, and everyone will have their own experiences with what these difficult paths will be. He introduced one way of healing that was simple yet profound: storytelling. When we listen to stories, our bodies speak to us, and understanding how our bodies react, and why, is how we can begin a path of recovery and healing from those difficult experiences in our own lives. People cannot avoid life’s difficulties, but they can learn to understand and be aware of the challenges affecting them and then learn how to move forward to healing. This is called wičhózani.

A cultural approach to reflective healing with storytelling

Many Native elders have shared their wisdom, and somatic therapists teach that bodies carry trauma. For instance, standing on the land at Fort Snelling State Park in Minnesota, where my ancestors, including my third-great-grandmother, were imprisoned in 1862 in the largest internment camp in United States history, I am not just staring or walking on the land. I hear the sounds of my ancestors, smell the smells, and visualize the many Dakota people. As I breathe in deeply, I begin to feel the trauma in my shoulders. They begin to tighten, and I often feel light-headed. This is not just a sacred space. It is more than that, and my body instantly feels it.

Somatic healing tells us that when a body is in pain, it is critical to pay attention to the source of the discomfort. This requires you to be aware of your breathing and any feelings your body is experiencing. Understanding how your body and mind react to a situation that may provoke trauma is critical. The Lakota have an understanding of somatic healing as a result of their knowledge of the spirit contained inside our bodies. Bodily healing serves a function that is tied to our spirit. This is the Lakota language. Our spirit communicates with us, and somatic healing lets us focus on what the spirit speaks and how to resolve it.

Storytelling and healing toolbox

To the Lakota, caring for one’s body, mind, and spirit is a philosophical concept of existence. Every human being, plant, four-legged creature, and every aspect of creation possesses God’s sanctity. Constant reflection of minds, thoughts, feelings, everyday actions, and relationships is essential to preserving who we are. This is the circle of healing. Let this storytelling toolbox guide you.

  1. Understand that stories are a powerful opportunity to welcome the vision of a larger world around us.
  2. Stories introduce us to our strength, courage, and respect for our challenging journeys.
  3. Listening to someone’s story other than your own is a doorway to hope and healing when we feel broken—hearing how the resilience and survival of their journey opens a new path for healing for ourselves.
  4. Knowing your story, who you are, how you see yourself in the world, and understanding your strengths opens healing from the past, brings you firmer into the present, and prepares you for a better future.
  5. Do not just listen to others’ stories; find the courage to tell your story. That is when the healing truly begins.

Ministering to Grieving People

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In moments of shared grief, how will you respond?
Kelly Sherman-Conroy

Kelly Sherman-Conroy

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