Finding Meaning in Your Story

Jennifer MitchellAnxiety, Jennifer Mitchell, Trauma


“ He who has a why to live for- can bear with almost any how.”

     —  Nietzsche

 Psychology and therapy have historically been rooted in a medical model which is saturated with a “problem” focused lens. This means looking at “what’s wrong with the person” and what is the “best” way to “fix” them. Pathologizing people is rarely helpful; it can often disempower people from viewing themselves as the driver in their life. Today, therapy is much more about helping people find their strengths and dust off the coping skills they have somewhere inside. It’s about finding what motivates people and teaching strategies and tools that make sense to them and fit with their life.

For me, I strongly believe we survive by creating meaning around the events that happen to us. It can be our natural instinct to want to get rid of or fix discomfort, strong emotions, anxiety, depression and trauma. However, as I have stated before, we do not become whole by amputating parts of ourselves (wise words of my Hakomi teacher).

Everything we experience makes up the story of who we are. Stories have good and bad parts, exciting, sad, happy, scary and often downright terrifying parts. In stories there are betrayals, friendships, lovers, breakups, births, deaths, celebrations, divorces, marriages – life is rich and that richness is often a mix of perceived negative and positive experiences. ALL have the potential for meaning. All create opportunity to learn something about ones self.

We have a choice – to sit down to tea with these “enemies” (trauma, suffering, anxiety, etc) and get to know them, sit with them feel the discomfort. We can learn what makes us vulnerable to certain issues, how we got there and learn the tools to make it manageable to live with challenging issues. We have a choice to look at what we can learn from it. Victor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and renowned neurologist and psychiatrist suggests finding meaning may be difficult but helps us move through and onward. I recommend reading his work, but I wish to summarize a few salient points about finding meaning:

  • The constant search for happiness is a problem – rather we need reason to be happy despite hardship
  • Finding meaning is not about making sense of evil or finding one major goal to direct the rest of your life. Finding meaning may be finding ways to feel valuable in the moment, hour to hour, day to day
  • Reframe and mold suffering into an action that is meaningful.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a good example of mom’s that took their grief and anger and directed into a campaign to save lives.

I believe, while we do not want addiction, trauma, anxiety, depression or any other variety of challenges, driving the bus, to attempt to kick it off completely denies us a piece of our history and the opportunity to learn! It does not mean it defines you, it may even be that you see it as only a small part and the lessons and meanings that emerge from it are what take up a larger part of you. It doesn’t mean that you are somehow “glad” you have suffered or you would wish to go through it again. It’s not about positive thinking and denying the fact that sometimes there are no word for the grief and pain you have endured. It is not about negating or forgetting what you went through but using it to help yourself or others. It is acceptance of your story and the decision, the conscious choice to create meaning in both the positive and negative chapters of your life.