RealSimple: How Telling Your Story Can Benefit Your Emotional Health
Rather than just steaming away, think of your difficult in-law or unreasonable boss as an antagonist in your story, suggests Kim Schneiderman, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City and the author of Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life. “Just like good fiction, life is about character development,” she says. “These people push you to discover your strengths and your resources by presenting you with challenges. Ask yourself, ‘What are they here to teach me?’”
To gird yourself for battle (e.g.,Thanksgiving dinner with your overbearing mother-in-law), imagine yourself as the hero in a novel. “Ask yourself, ‘What do I hope the main character would do in these circumstances? What would I root for the outcome to be? How might she grow from this experience?’” says Schneiderman. She suggests you even sketch out the scene in writing using the third-person voice. Be as literal or as imaginative as you like. You don’t have to be Shakespeare here: Simple sentences are fine. (“Jen took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. Leveling a cool glance at the older woman, she at last said out loud what she had been thinking for years: ‘Thank you for the parenting advice. But I do things differently.’”)
You are not trying to script the encounter in advance, she says. “Instead, the idea is to gain some distance and recognize you have control over how you react to conflicts. This exercise kicks you out of victim mode and lets you see these kinds of small, daily challenges as a way to grow.” That type of attitude shift can make you feel—and therefore act—more empowered in real life.