The Emotional Catharsis of Sharing Our Most Personal Stories

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telling our story emotional catharsis

By Alan D. Bergman (guest writer)

Like a plumber unclogging a stuffed pipe, recalling our past by telling or writing our stories can release a floodgate – a catharsis – of emotions that have long been blocked within us. In fact, Sigmund Freud called it Cathartic Emotional Release (CER). 

As a professional biographer/personal historian, I have witnessed how summoning the details of our lives from our memory banks, or even learning missing information about our own or our ancestors’ lives, can bring us both joy and pain. 

Emotional catharsis - telling our stories
Joan (at right) with her nanny, Ida

One biography client was Joan, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor who hired me to capture and preserve her life story. She mentioned that one day during her childhood in Prague, the family’s beloved live-in nanny, Ida, announced that she could no longer work for the family because they were Jewish. Ida showed them the Nazi swastika pin attached to her shirt collar and disappeared from their lives forever. Thinking back to the enormity of that heart-wrenching moment, Joan let out a soft wail and wept. 

I interviewed another client about his youth in 1950s Cleveland. While describing his high school fraternity and the age-appropriate hijinks he and his buddies pulled as frat members, his laughter was so hard that it turned to tears when unlocking that piece of his past. As the neuroscience of laughter has taught us, during this unexpectedly joyous experience his endorphins obviously flowed freely. 

I somewhat nonchalantly mentioned to another client, Anthony, what I had learned about his dad’s immigration to the U.S. His father had arrived at Ellis Island from Naples in July of 1922. I was shocked when the response was an audible gasp followed by sobbing. The revelation about his father’s journey must have been like finding a missing piece of himself. All his adult life, he had always wondered how, when, and exactly from where his dad came to this country. 

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During an interview with yet another client, I asked about her three adult children, having no idea she was completely estranged from them all. As she talked about the circumstances leading to each estrangement, the anguish on her face became increasingly apparent. It was a cold February day in New York yet sweat appeared on her brow. Her insistence on including this aspect of her life in her biography speaks volumes to her commitment to honesty and authenticity in capturing her whole story. 

Moments like these highlight the profound trust and connection that can develop between a biographer and a client. Together, we take a path to create a legacy that reflects the entirety of their life, both the joys and the struggles. Bringing the past to the forefront can be a richly gratifying and rewarding experience. It is often a huge relief. Perhaps best of all, preserving these life stories for the next generations prevents them from being lost to history forever. 

Alan D. Bergman is a personal historian-biographer. He is a baby boomer and the founder of Life Stories Preserved LLC. Alan can be reached via e-mail at AB@LifeStoriesPreserved.net or through the website www.LifeStoriesPreserved.net.