The Power of Storytelling: How it changes our brains and hearts
Throughout time, storytelling has held significant power and cultural importance. Written and oral storytelling is the means through which generations of wisdom, traditions, practical information, and values have been passed down and preserved over time.
Stories hold incredible power in our lives.
“As far as the brain is concerned, there is an impressive body of evidence to demonstrate how it has evolved over time as essentially a storied organ.”
– Jeffrey A. Kottler
In humans and in primate species, there exists something called mirror neurons. These brain cells are related to empathy, social behavior, and the ability to imitate – they function as a core part of human learning and connection. These neurons allow our brain to imagine physically and emotionally what another person’s experience is like.
Giacomo Rizzolatti, the neurophysiologist that discovered these neurons explains, “We are social beings. Our survival depends on our understanding the actions, intentions, and emotions of others. Mirror neurons allow us to understand other people’s mind, not only through conceptual reasoning but through imitation. Feeling, not thinking.”
We learn through vicarious and empathetic means – through watching others or imagining others’ experiences.
We watch a person enjoy an ice cream on a hot summer day and anticipate that we might enjoy that icy treat too. We imagine and empathize with a friend’s pain when they tell us about the recent loss of their loved one. We read the story of a person that overcame a struggle that we relate to, and feel hope imagining ourselves doing the same.
Stories are so intertwined into the fabric of our daily living, that we don’t often think about the many ways they influence our fears, motivations, interests, goals, relationships, and choices.
Why not purposefully connect with the way that storytelling can be an agent of change in your life and the lives of others? Listen actively to those you love and value – what can you learn from their story, their perspective? In what ways would your story being shared help someone else?
What’s amazing is that not only can we gather power from shared stories, but we can also give ourselves power by taking command of the way we tell our story. You are your own storyteller and protagonist. Reframing, deconstructing, and reconstructing your story can be incredibly empowering.
If you would like to better understand the ways that stories impact you, consider some of these questions:
1. What is a story that you often tell people you are getting to know, when you want them to get to know you better?
2. What is a story or a character that you have or do relate to strongly? This could be a storybook, a movie, a folktale, something you recall from a song, a play, or a story shared by a friend. How do you relate to this story and how has it impacted your life or your perspective?
3. What is an important or meaningful experience in your life that you haven’t been able to form into words or a story, yet?
As you explore your story and storytelling, we are here to support you!
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