You may think that writing about a traumatic event you've experienced might make you relive the trauma all over again. So how does writing heal trauma?
Research suggests that trauma, in particular the stress that accompanies trauma, damages brain tissue (Payne et al. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195158564.003.0003). The good news is that when you write about that emotional experience, it may help ‘rewire’ your brain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsHIV9PxAV4).
In order to use writing as a tool for healing, it is however important to find the meaning in your experience. To reflect on and process the experience - not simply mull it over repeatedly and write about it without reflection. Come to a place in your writing where you can make sense of your experience, and evaluate it honestly and deeply. It may be good to work with a therapist to help you process deep, unaddressed trauma.
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you”—Rumi
These are some of the ways that writing may help heal trauma.
Don't Hold Back
When you write, you have the freedom to express yourself without fear. There’s no need to pretend you’re ‘okay’. There’s no holding back. You can be completely vulnerable and honest. However, as mentioned above and in an earlier post, to truly heal you need to go beyond just venting your feelings. An important part of the healing process is to take it a step further to understand, process, and interpret your experiences, thoughts, and feelings.
“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation - either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course”― Martin Luther King Jr.
And there are also physical benefits to writing.
Healing Physical Ailments
Expressive or emotional writing can also lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep.
Writing Helps Acknowledge the Trauma
Acknowledging and exploring the trauma helps you work through it better. You become more aware of any toxic thoughts, and how the trauma has affected you. You notice the emotions that come up when you write about the trauma. This helps to clear the emotions and find meaning in your experience.
Working with a writing coach to guide you on your writing to heal journey can be helpful. That's why I created my newest course Writing to Heal: Metamorphosis. If you're interested in exploring your own writing to heal journey, I would love to support you. Book a Discovery Call and we can have a chat about whether Metamorphosis would be the most supportive option for you.
Writing Helps You on the Path to Forgiveness
Maybe you need to forgive yourself. Maybe it’s someone who wronged you, whether in a massive or a relatively minor way. In writing about your response to your feelings of injustice, anger or hurt, you bring these into the light instead of suppressing them. From that point, you can begin to heal and forgive.
Writing Gives You Hope
Expressive writing can help you imagine what is possible. Writing an alternative ending or scenario to certain traumatic events may help you on the road to healing by giving you back your power.
Writing Gives You Agency Over the Event
When you write, it’s important to feel the feelings that the event or experience brings up in you. It’s also important to write about the experience in as much detail as you can. By telling your complete story, you are transformed from victim to observer and narrator.
Writing Helps you Deal with the Pain
Unprocessed trauma can lead to addiction and many other dysfunctional behaviours. In not processing the trauma, you still suffer the stress of remembering the painful situation. You can express your thoughts, feelings, and emotions so much easier by writing about them. Moreover, your writing doesn’t need to be for anyone but you. It can be for your eyes only.
“We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full”―Marcel Proust
Writing about a traumatic event you’ve experienced can help alleviate the stress of that event. It can help to give you a feeling of control over your life again, a control that may have been lost due to the traumatic event. Writing gives you the freedom to express yourself fully, without censorship, feeling all the emotions that come up. Writing can even heal physical ailments. When writing about the trauma, allow yourself to reflect on and process the event to make sense of the experience. If you need additional support, consider working with a therapist or healer.