Ever since I was a kid, I have been interested in people’s stories. Something in me has always craved the intimacy of knowing someone else’s world, through their eyes. I remember asking my grandmother (who died 20 years ago) to tell me what happened in her experiences of the Armenian genocide, but she would never speak of it.
As an adult, I recognized that her silence was about trying to protect me, and herself, from the threat of traumatic memories. Telling her stories would have meant opening the door to a dark place and it was far less painful to keep the door shut. But I often wonder, what was the cost of her silence? What toll did these secrets take on her, on our family, and on a community that also endured what she did. I may never know the answers to these questions but throughout my studies in counselling psychology, and my own personal therapy, I have reflected A LOT on the power of speaking one’s truth to others, no matter what the story. These are the lessons I have learned (so far):
When you tell your personal story:
- You learn what is important to you. Sometimes expressing our experiences out loud reveals to us what we need or value most. It can make us better at seeking out those things or noticing when they are present.
- You choose its meaning and relevance to your life today. While the past is unchangeable, we have choice in how we frame it to ourselves and to others. This does not mean denying our experiences or genuine accountability, but it does allow us to focus on the elements of our story that serve us well.
- You form connections with others. We may create a shift in our listener’s mind and heart with our story. We may shed light on a matter that changes another person’s understanding of the world and of themself. Often, we discover that others have a similar story to our own. Perhaps most importantly, we see that we don’t have to carry our burdens alone.
I understand why my grandmother felt she needed to keep the doors to her past tightly closed. Telling our stories can be unbearably difficult. If I could speak to her today, I would thank her for her love and I would thank her for being part of my story.