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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Lemon Moms: A Guide to Understand and Survive Maternal Narcissism, by Diane Metcalf
For as long as I can remember, there was something “different” about my mother. She wasn’t like other mothers.
My mom didn’t hug or kiss, smile at, spend time with, or play with me. She never seemed happy to see me. She didn’t ask about my school day and wasn’t interested in knowing my friends. She seemed to have no interest in me or anything that I did. My mom called me hurtful names and obscenities, and at times, she ignored me, not speaking to me for days, weeks, or even months. When she felt sad I was expected to emotionally care-take her. When she didn’t feel like parenting, I was responsible for my siblings. When she lost her temper she hit. When I was disobedient, there were bizarre punishments.
I was not allowed to express feelings, ask questions, or show initiative or curiosity. My feelings were discounted, minimized, or invalidated. She re-wrote my memories, and I was expected to believe her version. I was to obey, stay quiet, and not question.
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About the Author
Drawing from her personal experiences of growing up in a dysfunctional household, Diane Metcalf has developed effective coping and healing strategies. With the assistance of professional therapists and mindful personal growth, she has honed her skills and now happily shares them with others who are interested in learning and growing.
As an experienced advocate, speaker, and writer, Diane is well-versed in topics such as narcissism, family dysfunction, abuse, and recognizing warning signs. Her extensive knowledge is drawn not only from her personal experiences, but also from her work in human service fields, including domestic violence, partner abuse, and court advocacy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Information Technology.
Diane’s transformational books on healing and personal growth, such as the highly acclaimed “Lemon Moms” series, offer emotional support and guidance in understanding narcissistic traits and healing past wounds. Her approach emphasizes self-awareness, intention, self-care, and establishing healthy boundaries as essential components in the healing process.
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This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.