As Published in Huffington Post on February 18th, 2015.
We all have untold stories.
Stories that our closest friends know bits and pieces of, but there never seems to be enough time or space to finish telling it.
I recently spoke with Gail Larsen, author of Transformational Speaking and founder of Real Speaking, about the emotional benefits of sharing our stories with our friends. She has worked with thought leaders such as Danielle LaPorte, Jennifer Louden, and Marie Forleo in her Transformational Speaking Immersion workshops.
Gail specializes in helping people tell their stories, and has been present for thousands of “births” of stories that have never been shared in public. She has witnessed the relief and power that comes from this process.
Although I wanted to ask Gail to become my new best friend that I could share all of my stories with (we had a really great visit!), I ended up having to settle for her description of the process that she takes her clients through. Gail is not a licensed therapist, but her talents reveal the healing and truth that comes from stories.
Whether you are too broke or too nervous to visit a therapist, here’s how to leverage Gail’s wisdom within your friendships:
The Role of Story in our Healing.
Gail explains that stories make it safe to tell the truth.
Most of us operate in environments where telling the truth isn’t appreciated. We are encouraged to hide our feelings and be strong. However, when only certain stories are acceptable, “we lose the truth of our own experience.” This makes it impossible to complete the healing process.
Sharing a story in a safe space allows us to embrace the entire truth of who we are. We can then reconnect with our whole selves by choosing to take back our power.
Moving Past the Victim Role.
Allowing our stories to “dribble out in bits and pieces” keeps us trapped as victims. The full weight of our truth is lost when it is dissected into disjointed conversations. To reinforce this, Gail references an indigenous teaching: “Come to my door three times with your story; after that I will turn you away.”
For most of us, between demanding work schedules and hectic family lives, it is a luxury to feel that there is enough time for an uninterrupted story. But that is Gail’s point. If we aren’t deliberate with the process of allowing the whole story to come out at once, the pieces of that story are lost in the chaos of the everyday.
When our story is told in its entirety, we are able to release it. It no longer holds the same power over us.
According to Gail, there are a few crucial factors to experience the relief that comes from letting go of the victim role: time, space and compassion.
Knowing When it’s Safe to Tell Your Whole Story.
I asked Gail if she could explain how to determine who it’s safe to tell your full story to. Was there a checklist she could give me to make sure that my friends fit the criteria for establishing time, space and compassion?
No such luck with a checklist, but she did explain how this works within a friendship.
A compassionate friend knows when you are ready to acknowledge a certain truth. Even though we are “trying to be strong and cool,” a good friend will give us space we need in that moment.
As a coach, Gail frequently observes that people quickly run when they are speaking if they hit emotion. She tries to have them pause by asking, “What’s coming up?”
I’ve had friends interject with a compassionate question like that, and whatever emotion was just under the surface comes spilling right out. It’s a good thing — but if left to my own devices I know I would have chosen the safe option of allowing those emotions to stay submerged. Fair enough, Gail. Friends don’t let friends bottle up their feelings while telling a story. I get it.
“It’s usually underneath the stories that we tell — where the goldmine is. We hold back our emotions on the things that are hurtful, but if we can clear that by telling the whole story…there is a release in being heard and hearing ourselves. Some people would say do that in therapy… which we do… but the question is, what is the role of a friend? If we are going to give each other this gift, it requires sacred space and intention.”
Using an Alter Ego to Share Your Story.
Gail has a delicious, not-so-well-kept secret.
She has an alter-ego called Madame Ovary. Knowing that she created a stage show based on Madame Ovary makes my girl crush complete.
I was curious. What is the emotional benefit of an alter-ego when it comes to our stories?
Gail described that, “We all have voices that we have silenced that brings us alive. The voice that we lead with is not necessarily the voice that brings us alive. We have all these aspects of ourselves that are often not heard.”
Madame Ovary was born from Gail telling her friend Adrienne about an embarrassing story and Adrienne’s reaction was telling Gail to write about that story — but write it funny. Madame Ovary now takes over when the story gets too heavy for her, allowing her to look at a story in a new way.
These different voices, or alter egos, can be used as tools to tell a different version of the same story and examine it from a new perspective: the reflective voice, the funny voice, the evangelist voice, etc.
A Final Thought on Story and Friendship.
The most powerful moment in my conversation with Gail was in the last five minutes, during which she described her great teacher, Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist whom Gail studied with for 10 year. Angeles passed away very suddenly in 2014.
Angeles would frequently remark during a conversation, “Now THAT’s a story that doesn’t need to happen!”
What a profound comment to come from a teacher and a friend. Gail reflected, “No wonder that it changed my life… it was pure wisdom. When you heard her, you would take a high sigh and say, ‘Oh yes… that.'”
May we all be the type of friend who creates the space to compassionately listen to an untold story, or gently tease that certain stories don’t need to happen at all.
This year, you will find Gail hitting the road in her new little motorhome, “Happy Tales.” She is hoping to meet up with gatherings of people and find out the stories that are transforming their lives. She is also in talks about expanding her brand globally through licensing trainers that have worked with her. To keep up to date on Gail’s new adventures, visit her on her website at http://www.realspeaking.com