Richard G. Petty, MD

Re-Writing Our Life Stories and Developing Resilience

“Every man’s story is important, eternal and sacred.”

–Herman Hesse (German-born Swiss Novelist, Poet and, in 1946, Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1877-1962)

In Healing, Meaning and Purpose, I spend a lot of time discussing the nature of memory – that it does not work like a video recorder, but is a dynamic process – and the value of re-writing your life story. This is a remarkably powerful technique.

What is particularly interesting and useful is to uncover events in our lives that have had two characteristics. First, is that they had a strong subjective impact. And second, that they generated meaning. Breaking up with a partner might generate a lot of emotion and lead you to believe that you are not good in relationships or it could make you think that the other person didn’t appreciate you. Losing a game of football may be painful, but will likely not generate much meaning. Unless your team is on a thirty game losing streak….

A recent study from Quebec published in the Journal of Personality, studied events that we use to define ourselves. Researchers looked at the subjective impact and the meaning-making effect of these self-defining events. This is what they found. When we remember events in our lives that we feel had a major impact on our life story or on our sense of identity, we tend to downplay the negative and emphasize the positive.

When we are asked to think back to those events, we tend to report less sadness and more pride than we actually felt at the time. For positive memories, people reported equally intense positive emotions – for example love – and less negative emotions – such as fear – compared with how they recalled feeling at the time.

What this means is that in the face of change, adversity and opportunity, we are always trying to maintain a positive and coherent sense of self. This is a component of psychological resilience. Someone with clinical depression loses the ability to maintain this positive and coherent sense of self.

This work is also important for people trying to fashion a more positive view of him or herself. While it is usually a good idea to cultivate a positive mental attitude, there are some people for whom such an approach can be disastrous: they are the ones who thrive on negativity. Which one are you?

Simply deciding to change your view of yourself will likely have only a very short-term effect unless you identify and work with cardinal life events. Some forms of psychotherapy revolve around trying to identify the key events that have fashioned our sense of self and that have contributed to our identity. You can begin that process for yourself.

But that is only one part of the equation.

Any long-term change will also involve the attitudes and expectations of other people: none of us lives in a vacuum. I have known countless supremely self-confident musicians, artists and even scientists, whose careers have never got started, because nobody agreed with their evaluation of themselves.

There are a number of ways of presenting yourself in a way that will inspire confidence in other people, and I shall discuss some of those in one of my future programs.

“Every story can be told in different ways.”

–Greek Proverb

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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