image of senior woman ©2004-2007 Tim Byrne

Why We Tell Life Stories

Life storytelling is a kind of spiritual endeavor in which we get to the heart of who we are and what is most important to us. Assisting someone else in this personally sacred act can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding interpersonal experiences to participate in. It is a way of empowering ourselves and others by getting to a deeper understanding of our life experience and what it means to us.

Through story we tap into ageless, universal themes that have been experienced by all of humanity, and that connect us to our roots and common heritage. Telling our life story can fulfill the important functions of bringing us into accord with:

  1. ourselves (the psychological function)
  2. others (the sociological function)
  3. the mystery of life (the spiritual function), and
  4. the universe around us (the philosophical function).

The stories we tell of our lives today are guided by an ageless, universal pattern that also guided traditional and sacred stories of generations past. Our stories contain the same enduring elements, motifs and archetypes that express the common twists and turns of the path of life. As we learn early, all good stories are made up not only of a beginning, middle, and end, but a beginning, muddle, and resolution. This is the pattern, or archetype, that describes the process of transformation common to all lives. We can therefore see this as a sacred pattern, or a blueprint, offering a structure that both forms the plot of a story and facilitates lifelong growth and development.

There is a power in storytelling that can transform our lives. Traditional stories, myths, and fairy tales hold this power. Stories told from generation to generation carry this power in the enduring values and lessons about living life deeply they pass on. Our own life stories can be tools for making us whole; they gather up the parts of us and put them together in a way that gives our lives greater meaning than they had before we told our story.

The stories we tell of our own lives carry this transforming power, too. Our stories illustrate our inherent connectedness with others. In the life story of each person is a reflection of anotherís life story. In some mysterious, amazing way our stories and our lives are all tied together.


For more reasons why we tell our life stories, see The Gift of Stories: Practical and Spiritual Applications of Autobiography, Life Stories, and Personal Mythmaking by Robert Atkinson (Greenwood, 1995).