Your story matters! Cognitive therapists know that the nuances of our story are just as important as the story itself. For example, a person undergoing horrific circumstances might refer to herself as a victim, and as a result, feel intense shame. When facing similar hardships, another person will proclaim herself a survivor and feel proud at having overcome adversity. How we choose to tell our blended family story impacts how we feel about ourselves and our family.
The Power of Your Blended Family Story
Stories are so powerful that therapists use them to help their clients work through trauma. However, I suspect that stories were used to support people moving through their pain, long before professional therapists were around. The first time someone talks about their painful past, it hurts. Yet, after telling an agonizing story a hundred times, the aching feelings diminish. Eventually, talking about our painful past becomes as easy as ordering a cheeseburger from McDonald’s–there is little emotional attachment. [Tweet “Telling our blended family story is important because it helps us to work through past pain.”]
James Pennebaker, a researcher at the University of Texas, examines the power of writing out one’s story in his book, Writing to Heal. Pennebaker states, “Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives. You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are… Writing helps us focus on and organize our experience.” According to Pennebaker, the simple act of writing is healing. Journaling about emotional upheavals for as little as fifteen minutes a day reduces anxiety, rumination, and signs of depression. It also gives the immune system an extra boost. Yes, telling and retelling our story is powerful!
This process becomes even more potent when we share our stories with others. Recently, I saw this play out in my own life. I wrote about how God can take our painful past and work it for our good. I’m a firm believer that divorce is never ideal. Because of this, I wrote in a way that suggested that a blended family could be a wonderful “plan B.” My friend Erik reminded me that, the story God writes for us is often not the story that we would choose for ourselves.
The Power of Messy
Even messy blended family stories can be powerful. In fact, often messy stories are the most powerful stories.
For example, given the opportunity, the prophet Jonah wouldn’t have traveled to Ninevah. And, interestingly enough, God commanded the prophet Hosah to marry a prostitute–a plot-twist that no prophet would choose on his own. Erik suggested that my blended family may actually be God’s “plan-A.” Slowly, I’m learning to embrace this concept. Perhaps, our blended families–as messy as they are–are a vital part of God’s larger plan.
I discovered that sharing my messy story allows others to point out hidden strengths that I have overlooked. Yet, telling my blended family story didn’t come easy. Last year, I began providing small snapshots of my painful past, usually after my wife’s prompting and encouragement.
Us introverts have an especially difficult time with the storytelling process. There is the fear of,
- Coming across as angry or bitter.
- Of being “That person.” You know, the one who hijacks the conversation and continues talking long after everyone is done listening.
Sharing our messy, blended family story is an art. Like most skills, it is refined with practice. The important thing is to start.
Your Blended Family Story Matters to Others
Telling our story is not for our benefit alone. Stories are the Velcro that connects us to others. Last week, when a friend shared about his painful divorce, I let out a sigh of relief. On the one hand, I felt bad for my friend. I cringed at the pain he experienced. I hurt with him as he recounted the excruciating details. On the other hand, I was reminded that I am not on this blended family journey alone. When other’s share their messy stories with me, my story feels more normal. I have yet to hear a pain-free, blended family story. This is exactly why your blended family story needs to be told. You and I are not traveling alone. In fact, I would suggest that not sharing stories with others is selfish.
So why a post about telling our stories? And why write about this today? In 2015, I began the process of sharing my blended family story by accident. It started with the prompting of our Seminary Dean. She gently suggested–and then more firmly pushed me–to host a workshop for blended families.
After this, I was encouraged to share more often. Over time, telling my story has become easier. As I heard how others were benefiting from my journey, I eventually began to enjoy the process. One of the highlights of the year was speaking at this blended family workshop. After proclaiming that “God loves blended families,” I noticed many people, tear-up. It was through this experience that I understood that my story matters to others.
Blended Family Story Goals
Your blended family story matters too. As you think about your goals for 2016, I would suggest adding “Telling my blended family story” to your list. This year,
- Tell your story often.
- Share it freely with others.
- Write it out.
- Allow your story to normalize the blended family experiences of others.
- View holding back your story as a form of selfishness.
- Allow others to pray for you, cheer you on, and show you the hidden strengths you have overlooked.
Continue the Conversation
If the thought of sharing your blended family story appeals to you, don’t wait. Dive right in by sharing snapshots of your journey in the comments below. Start small, and with the support of others, begin crafting your blended family story into a messy masterpiece. If you have already begun this process, I would love to hear what you have learned along the way. Chances are that you’ve been sharing your story for longer than I have, and I would appreciate the opportunity to learn from you. What has worked well? What pitfalls have you learned to avoid? What have been the highlights of sharing and re-sharing your blended family story? I look forward to continuing our conversation in the comments below!