Have you ever wondered why adolescents start writing diaries, or why blogs are so popular? After writing about a problem, it seems less overwhelming and often, the solution to those problems become more obvious. It seems that writing about it is the answer. Even certain psychological therapies use writing as a tool to gather relevant information about the patient’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors in order to solve specific problems.
Humans have always needed to express their internal turmoil, problems and dilemmas in order to deal with them. Common to all streams of psychology is the need to avoid burying one’s problems, or deny their existence as a coping mechanism or as a way to solve them. When we do not address what bothers, worries or hurts us, when we do not speak about our problems, we cannot solve them. Problems which are repressed inside will eventually find their way out and impact our life and affect our well-being. It is like energy that becomes trapped inside us, and starts generating tension and altering the normal functioning of our body. Some theories declare that not talking is a way of inhibition and that this causes stress that increases the risk of developing illnesses or other disturbances. So it is very important to deal with, address and confront our problems if we want to overcome and solve them.
Writing can channel that closed energy, disperse the tension and henceforth reduce the stress.
Writing about our emotional experiences can be a powerful tool that can help us process our problems and feel better. Writing about emotional experiences seems to make us feel better physically and mentally. Studies have shown that writing can have a positive impact on general health measures ( such as less visits to the doctors, less somatic complaints and it can even have a positive influence on our immune system.) Writing about our emotional experiences can also have a positive impact on our behavior: students get better grades, unemployed people find new jobs faster and absenteeism at work is reduced.
But how is it that putting on paper something we already think can actually make us feel better and help us to process it?
When one starts writing, one goes from being a passive observer to an active participant.
The act of writing acknowledges the existence of a problem, issue or worry and our willingness to look at it and examine it. In a way, it demonstrates that we are open to discuss it with someone (whether it is with other people or with ourselves.) This is a way to confront it rather than ignoring it or avoiding it. It becomes a mechanism for psychological insight. And once it is outside, we can look at it and see it for what it really is: nothing more and nothing less. We gain distance from it and we then can approach it positively in many other different ways.
This is something that one does for oneself. Here the talker and the listener are the same person, there is no need to please anybody nor is there any fear of being judged by anyone. It is just the writer confronting his own thoughts and feelings. By writing, we are transforming thoughts that exist in our mind into words; we are translating experiences into language and by doing so, we can look at them in a different way and treat them differently. Our perspective about them changes. When we write about our emotions, we construct stories that explain why we feel the way we do. It gives meaning to confused emotions and ideas. It helps to gain insight into our emotional experiences and to find meaning in them. We discover things about ourselves and we relate to them differently. Writing becomes therapeutic.
Writing gives the person control over his thoughts and emotions. It is the person who decides what to write and how to express it. This process gives the writer a different perspective. Rather than being inside the experience and overwhelmed by it, one becomes more of an observer, someone who is more detached, and can process the experiences better. One learns to relate differently to the experiences. The problems pass from being inside you, to something that is outside, something that you can look at and transform. This minimizes the power and intensity they have over us.
Eventually, the person assimilates these experiences, understands them better and is more capable of processing them and moving on with his life.
Many times we feel ashamed or we are very judgmental about our own thoughts and emotions, and we prefer to keep them inside, hidden from the world. When we write about them, there is no judgment, and there is no audience but ourselves. There is no need to write well, there are no rules on how things should be written and therefore it becomes easier to write. We write in our own style, with our own words. We can be creative and combine words with drawings, prose or poetry. There is no need to please anyone nor is there any fear of upsetting others. It is safe.
Writing is universal and everyone can benefit from it regardless of age, sex, culture, language or education.
How is this done?
Since anybody can write in his own private and particular way, it is a tool that allows many different possibilities. Nevertheless, there are a few guidelines that seem to help when we are dealing with strong emotional issues.
There is no need to worry about grammar, sentence structure or spelling when we write. What is important here is the process of writing rather than what gets produced. It is the act of writing that matters although, we can always decide at a later stage to edit this writing if we want to share it with other people. It is good to set some boundaries or limits to our writing. These limits can be physical; we can use paper or a computer; we might decide on a place where we can write safely and without getting disturbed and a time of the day and a length of time that will allow for our inner thoughts and emotions to emerge without becoming overwhelming for us.
The more frequently you write, the better but if you only do it occasionally it also helps.
There should be no censoring or criticism about what gets written but it is important to take one step at a time and maybe not start with your deepest and most troublesome thoughts at first. Writing is a skill that needs to be developed and practiced if we want to learn to use it well and effectively.
Writing can adopt many forms such as lists of things that trouble us, letters that we write to people (whether we actually send them or not), a dialogue with ourselves, or a description of our inner feelings and thoughts. All forms are valid as long as we allow for these inner experiences to emerge and become visible and observable by us.
Therapeutic writing can be used by people on their own, or as part of psychological individual or group therapy.
It is a powerful tool that helps us connect with our deepest thoughts and feelings. It adopts many forms and has many different uses and if we learn to use it well, it can transform our lives and liberate us from our own internal troubles.