You have a story. That story matters. The only way to experience significant shifts in your heart is by engaging your story. Your life experiences shape the very structure of your brain, and therefore profoundly influence how you are presently living your life. Your earliest relationship with your primary caretakers has had the most shaping power on your brain.
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You have a story. That story matters. The only way to experience significant shifts in your heart is by engaging your story.
Your life experiences shape the very structure of your brain, and therefore profoundly influences how you are presently living your life. Your earliest relationship with your primary caretakers has had the most shaping power on your brain.
Another way of answering the question, “What do I mean by ‘your story’” is neurobiologically. You have billions of neurons in your brain. Each of those neurons is connected to thousands of other neurons.
There are only two ways that those neural connections developed—genes and life experiences.
So, when I speak of your story, I mean your life experiences, which simply means your brain. With the exception of the genes that were passed on to you, your brain is a function entirely of the experiences you have had in life.
So, why do I say that you are not going to experience meaningful, heart-level change until you engage your story? B/c “change” means that neurons link up differently with one another.
You are not going to change deeply until you engage your neurons… which means until you engage the experiences you have had in life.
When it comes to engaging your story, there’s a sense in which the most significant plot line of that story is your relationship with your parents. It’s certainly the most influential in terms of setting the trajectory for your life.
Why is this the case? Well, it’s actually a matter of science. There are two scientific principles. Just like there is the First and Second Law of Thermodynamics, there is the first and second law of neurobiological development.
Law #1 — Relationships influence the brain more than anything else. More than exercise, more than drugs, more than nutrition, more than meditation, more than anything.
Law #2 — Your earliest life experiences have a much more significant influence on your brain than your later life experiences. The brain grows at a very rapid speed for the first couple years of your life and then it slows way down.
When you put those two laws together, you get the following implication: your earliest relationship with your primary caretakers has had the most shaping power on your brain.
Now that we’ve examined some of the common objections to engaging your story, let’s look at a positive reason to do so.
And it’s simply this: 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. Repeat
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.
For help with engaging your story in a group setting, consider the Allender Center’s Certificate Program.