What happens when you take out time to write a story about the events that have happened in your life? Having to tell the story detailing the personal experiences one has been through without bias. This is basically what a memoir is; an autobiography written as a book describing the personal experiences of the author. Writing a memoir encourages a person to give a holistic view on the life such person has lived. Writing the details of one’s life, free of self-deceit, paying attention to the details, and putting down the truth, whether good or bad, takes one on a journey of healing. On a general note, writing a memoir can help your brain and your spirit become freer and more open to possibilities.
Penning down a memoir presents one with a rare opportunity of self-discovery. The moment one tells the significant aspects of their lives, they come to terms with who they really are. In other words, they discover their identity. They are able to figure out how they have truly lived theirs lives up until that very moment they are penning down their memoir. It helps them identify their strengths and weaknesses in ways they were yet to understand and helps prepare them for what is to come. A study has shown an increase in cognitive functioning and lessening of symptoms of depression using reminiscence therapy. Recalling one’s life events reminds one of who they used to be and points out the areas which they need to either improve on or be satisfied with. When you tell the significant moments of your life, you come to terms with your identity.
Furthermore, recalling one’s life, especially triumphs, encourages empowerment and creates order out of all the chaos. Remembering the times of prevailing builds a path for more victories to follow. This is especially helpful for people that are severely depressed as the realization of a time of strength in their lives helps with overcoming depression with encouraging results. Having to organize one’s past into a system can help one see their lives in a different light, and according to neuroscientists, it can change the brain’s organic structure. This activity of putting your life into a structure, looking for patterns and finding expressive words is a great mental exercise.
Also, there is a distinct feeling of catharsis when writing a memoir. The release of emotional tension after the overwhelming nature of life’s experiences resulting in the purging or purification of emotions can be mentally fulfilling. However, what happens to a person writing a memoir goes beyond catharsis. In this regard, careful editing after catharsis can help one determine which life experience is more important, and it also helps one to focus on their strengths and how they can build on such strength to help and impart others.
One major effect of memoir writing is that it helps one to discover the meaning of life. Detailing one’s experiences through life helps in knowing what their life has truly been all about. It creates a sense of fulfillment and overall peace to know that the events that led up to a particular moment in their life happened for a reason and such knowledge generally provides closure to those that truly need it. A Life Review Conference speaker who assists hospice patients with life review reported in 2018 that life reminiscence is a tool for understanding one’s life and making meaning of it. The dying want connection; they want to know the worth of their lives; they want communication. ‘I want to speak my truth, and my truth be heard,’ said one hospice patient. A study has shown that professional end-of-life reminiscence using a few significant questions can alleviate suffering, if not pain.
Patricia Hampl in her book ‘I could tell you stories: sojourns in the land of memory’ said “Our capacity to move forward as developing beings rests on a healthy relationship with the past. Psychotherapy, that widespread method of promoting mental health, relies heavily on memory and on the ability to retrieve and organize images and events from personal past… if we learn not only to tell our stories but listen to what our stories tell us – to write the first draft and then return for the second draft – we are doing the work of memory.”
Reference: Patricia Hampl ‘I could tell you stories: sojourns in the land of memory’