Do you journal?
A lot of us do. Journaling is a great way to work through our problems, express emotions, and get our thoughts OUT and onto paper. It’s a terrific way to affirm, pay attention to, and really “hear” ourselves. If you’ve ever journaled and felt the sense of clarity or peace that comes from collecting your thoughts and expressing them in writing, maybe it’s time to try “expressive writing.”
Expressive writing is a bit different from just writing thoughts and activities in a journal. It is used as a way to deal with old or new traumatic events or memories. When using expressive writing, it is necessary to reflect on a specific challenge, traumatic experience, or memory in order to discover new meaning in the event.
Benefits of expressive writing
According to researcher Dr. James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Austin, Texas, people who use expressive writing to journal have improved mental and physical health.
Dr. Pennebaker pioneered a study of expressive writing as a coping mechanism for trauma. His and hundreds of other studies have verified the benefits achieved by people suffering from PTSD, cancer, depression, and various other mental and physical ailments. This journaling technique was found to strengthen the immune system, reduce pain and inflammation, lower infection rates from colds or flu, and decrease depression symptoms. It can also improve memory, sleep quantity and quality, and attitude. It’s clear that there are many benefits associated with expressive writing!
How it works
Using expressive writing allows the writer to recognize a painful or traumatic experience and describe it as a problem to be solved. Doing this allows the writer to identify a particular problem and organize their thoughts and feelings, using written language to create the narrative. This process helps break the rumination cycle, which, in my experience, helps decrease or eliminate cognitive dissonance. Research shows that labeling our emotions actually calms the limbic system and the fight or flight response. (Look up “name it and tame it.”) The prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of executive functions, regains control, and a deeper meaning and understanding can be created around the memory or traumatic event. This leads the writer to feel a new sense of control and personal power regarding the traumatic event. The more we do this type of journaling, the easier it gets.
When people become more comfortable thinking about and remembering a traumatic event, they are more able to share their feelings with others. Expressive writing may indirectly lead writers to seek emotional support, thereby accelerating the healing process.
As demonstrated in a 2006 study published in the Journal of Psychological Science, expressive writing can also improve relationships. The study found that when one partner wrote about their relationship in detail, both partners began using more positive language when texting each other. The relationship also lasted longer.
Don’t like to write?
If you don’t like journaling, you can still use expressive writing. Recording your thoughts has been shown to work just as well.
To use the technique, write without judgment, self-editing, or correcting spelling or grammatical mistakes. Just write it as you think or feel it. Write for 15 to 20 minutes for at least three consecutive days. Deep dive into your thoughts and feelings and write about them in detail when you do this.
I’m a big fan of journaling using expressive writing. I wrote the “Lemon Moms Companion Workbook” to supply the necessary prompts, questions, and challenges to help you use expressive writing as one of your healing tools.
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About the Author
As a result of growing up in a dysfunctional home, and with the help of professional therapists and continued personal growth, Diane Metcalf developed strong coping and healing strategies. She happily shares those with those who want to learn and grow in their own recovery journies.
Diane is an experienced advocate, speaker, and writer on narcissism, family dysfunction, and abuse. She draws from her personal childhood experiences, as well as her work in human service fields like domestic violence and partner abuse. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Information Technology.
Her transformational books about healing and moving forward include the highly praised “Lemon Moms” series. This emotionally supportive collection explains narcissistic traits and teaches how to reconcile past hurts to begin self-nurturing, healing, and moving forward.
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This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.