So it turns out that the practice of reflecting on the story of your life actually promotes healing in your brain. There are two reasons for this:
- Brain health is a function of the degree to which all parts of your brain are connected with one another.
- The process of reflecting on your story, sharing your story with another, and hearing another’s reaction to your story connects neural networks that were previously separated.
In other words, the key to healing is connecting. Engaging the core stories of your life heals your brain by connecting regions that were previously not well connected.
Connecting Left to Right
When you experience harm, your thoughts about the experience become disconnected from the overwhelming emotions you had. Literally. The neurons holding your thoughts (stored in your left brain) become disconnected from the neurons holding your feelings (stored in the right brain).
Telling the story of the experience requires that your brain link your
thoughts about the story (left brain)
feelings about the story (right brain).
If you are able to tell your story while remaining connected to your emotions, then the neural networks in the left part of your brain will link up with the neural networks in the right part of your brain.
This is very healing.
It leads to what neuroscientists call integration, and what the Bible calls shalom.
Connecting Top to Bottom
Telling your story not only leads to left-right integration, but it can lead to “top-down” integration. “Top” refers to the portion of your brain that is behind your forehead—your cortical brain. “Bottom” refers to the portion of your brain that is lower and deeper—your limbic brain. The limbic brain triggers your fight-flight response and your shutting down response.
When you begin to reflect on harmful parts of your story—stories that hold shame, fear, or rage—your limbic brain reacts and you enter a state of fight-flight or a state of shutting down.
Do I Really Have to Tell It To Another Person?
Yes! If you are able to stay with the story in the presence of another person, two things happen (which are both very good for your brain).
First, the other person’s limbic brain regulates yours—which is to say, their limbic brain soothes and calms yours.
Second, as a result of their attunement and soothing, your cortical brain (top) forms connections and linkages with your limbic brain (bottom).
In other words, the presence of an attuned listener leads to changes in your brain.
Your brain develops neural pathways that connect your cortical brain to your limbic brain. This is very healing because these pathways enable you to self-regulate when you become overwhelmed by fear, shame, or rage.
Have you told the important stories of your life to someone who knows how to listen and respond?
If connecting different regions of your brain really leads to healing, what do you need to do to make time to write a story?
For more on how telling your story heals your brain, read Ch. 9 of The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy by Louis Cozolino.
copyright © 2016 Adam Young