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The Stories That Shape Our Lives

Long before there was written language, our ancestors relied on verbal communication to transmit history, values, ethics and beliefs. For thousands of years people have used words to keep memories alive.

Some cultures evolved stories into songs or dances. Others created artwork. Still others relied on written words. Today, these stories are still being created and shared.

In all of its forms, story telling is a way of passing on knowledge, morals, joys and sorrows. Stories are about history, about hopes and fears; they’re windows into a peoples’ inner world.

Share a story about yourself, and you will reveal your beliefs and values. Repeat a story your mother tells, and you will explain your history. Tell a story your brothers tell about your childhood, and your personality will come through.

People yearn to know more about who they are and where they came from. At a young age, children ask about how they were born, what their first words and foods were.

People understand themselves by understanding their history. And not just their personal history, but the history of  their people: their family, ethnicity, culture, religion, even political identification.

Think back to recent family gathering. What stories did you hear? What stories did you tell?

In my family, my father’s stories usually involved daring exploits, explosions, and solitary encounters with wild animals in the canyons in California. As a child, it was my father who pushed me to go beyond what I thought was possible, to stretch myself. He took me for hikes in the mountains, gave me the gift of meditation and spirituality.

My mother’s stories tell about surviving severe poverty, caring and being cared for and compassion. As a child, I learned empathy, kindness and generosity.

People in therapy tell many stories; stories about their past, about their family, their work. It is through these stories that I learn about people’s strengths and struggles, and how they see and understand the world around them.

Opening up about things that have happened in our lives allows us to better understand, mourn and celebrate aspects of ourselves that are often hidden. It allows us to support one another in a more authentic and real manner.

Stories live on as they are told and retold, and retold again. They are how we remember our history, and how our history will be remembered.

Take care of your stories, and the stories of those you love. Write them down, tell about them, draw them, celebrate them, embrace them. Most of all learn from them. Stories are wisdom, in so many forms.


photo from Shutterstock

The Stories That Shape Our Lives

Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S

Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Columbus, Ohio. She works with individuals and couples, and specializes in relationship counseling. She's now offering online counseling for residents of Ohio. Stay Connected . Follow her on twitter; and connect with her on Facebook.

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APA Reference
Harmon, J. (2012). The Stories That Shape Our Lives. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 11 Jul 2012
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