Sometimes participants in my Life Story workshops have asked me if it’s worth documenting one’s memoir if there are no friends or family members who will read it. My answer is a resounding YES it is definitely of value.
Across the years, many workshop participants have commented on the unexpected benefits to themselves personally as a result of their life story writing efforts. They have noted that long forgotten memories come rushing out as one memory triggers another. Some workshop participants have mentioned a greater sense of the richness of one’s life as they work to capture it’s essence. Others have noticed that a new or expanded understanding of people or life events evolves in the course of writing.
It’s not surprising to me, therefore, that many psychologists and researchers are noticing that writing a memoir, even just for one’s own consumption, can help us make sense of our lives, deal with difficult events and foster personal growth.
Several studies have shown that writing about traumatic or difficult events can reduce stress, lessen depression and improve cognitive and immune system functions. Some researchers believe that by converting emotions and images into words, we start to organize and structure memories, particularly memories that may be difficult to comprehend and accept. Through writing, the memory of the experience can be broken down into small parts, allowing the event to be less overwhelming and more easily processed,
When writing about past traumas or difficulties, the people who gain the most from the experience are those who tend to acknowledge their own challenges while also seeing other people’s points of view. Over the course of writing, their general perspective about the events tends to evolve which can result in new connections and understandings. It’s probably no surprise that researchers have noted that life narratives are especially beneficial if they focus on redemption and overcoming adversity.
Writing about life experiences can also help us to re-evaluate what we have learned from living and how we might want to live the rest of our lives.
Of course, there are also potential risks. Writing to uncover a deeper meaning in one’s life requires honesty or authenticity, which could occasionally cast us in a negative light or resurrect long buried feelings of resentment or melancholy. Researchers suggest if the experience causes increasing anger or bitterness, it is best to stop.
We must recognize that there is a difference between writing a memoir for one’s self and writing it for an audience. When writing for family and friends, we may be tempted to omit details or even change the story. In some ways, the memoir written just for one’s self may be more honest and complete. That said, it must be acknowledged that sharing a memoir in limited circles can be therapeutic, especially if it is a receptive audience. Sharing will help friends and family understand who we are and the life journey that has shaped us.
In essence, writing our own life story is an exercise of self-discovery and self-affirmation. It also provides a valuable record of one person’s journey through a particular time in history. It provides evidence that that one’s existence has been worthwhile and even memorable. So, whether you do it for family and friends, or just for yourself, it is a highly worthwhile endeavor.