We do different things with the bad things that happen to us than we do with the good things that happen. The good things go unnoticed after a while. The bad things we tuck away down inside ourselves somewhere and imagine that they too disappear from any continuing effect. Unfortunately, this is not the case for our negative experiences. Even though they might remain out of mind for the most part, they are quite active inside, causing ongoing and unrelenting stress. The energy required to keep negative memories out of conscious thought takes a huge toll on our psychological, physical, social, and behavioral health. I conduct research on a narrative intervention that leads people back to certain negative memories in order to work through and resolve them. This sort of narrative work has proven over and over again to improve people’s psychological, physical, social, and behavioral health.

The intervention I conduct is called Lifewriting.  It is a specialized method for writing through the life-story focusing on negative and unresolved attachment experiences – experiences that occurred within the emotional relationship between children and their parents during early childhood or between husband and wife or romantic partners during adulthood.  Lifewriting is a form of integrative reminiscence, a form of life review in which memories are recalled for the express purpose of examining, appraising, and coming to terms with the past.

In regards to psychological health, integrative reminiscence is associated with reduced levels of depression, perceived stress, reduced use of psychological and physical health services, and improved interpersonal relationships. In terms of physical health, it is associated with reduced symptoms of asthma, arthritis, hypertension, cholesterol, t-cell counts, and hepatitis. In terms of behavioral health, it is associated with reduced alcohol use and reduced smoking. Students who complete integrative reminiscence processes are hired more readily for jobs, earn better grades, and attend class more consistently.
My particular interest is in the effect of Lifewriting on social health, and particularly on something we call generativity, the unlimited and creative ways individuals demonstrate care and concern for society’s continued well-being in the domains of family, work, and community, thus sustaining the general society and the next generation. I’m curious about the new, creative, and resourceful ways individuals begin to improve their families, their communities, and society. This is why I’m so excited for you to meet Tim.

Tim participated in a Lifewriting intervention study in the summer of 2014. He engaged the work fully, working through some very challenging memories. Tim grew up in the city and had never gardened before this beautiful creation you see in the photograph. Hard to believe isn’t it? He started with one plot. That plot quickly grew too small for the proliferous plants you see here, so he started another one. He shared his fresh vegetables with neighbors and extended family and friends (including me).   You would have to hear him tell you how much pleasure he derived from growing and sharing food to gain the full impact of what is for him a new and creative and resourceful form of generativity. Thanks, Tim, for the collard greens and squash and peppers and kale…

Myra Sabir, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Human Development
College of Community & Public Affairs

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