When events like those in Connecticut occur, writing to heal may be a way to overcome trauma. The tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been sobering and very sad. I can’t imagine how parents of the fallen children will ever make sense of the devastation. It’s one thing to be at war and suffer loss and quite another to have violence come knocking at your front door. For the past several years, I’ve written articles about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for VietNow National Magazine. I know how difficult it is for combat veterans to overcome the trauma brought about by war. In spite of receiving therapy and taking medication, many vets still have recurring nightmares, sleepless nights, anger issues, and other PTSD symptoms. Healing from trauma, while possible, can be difficult.
In preparation for an upcoming article, I did some research about writing to heal. I knew healing occurred when I wrote my adoption memoir, Searching for Jane, Finding Myself, but I wanted to understand more about how this actually worked. Did the mere act of writing my story help put my abandonment issues to rest or was it something else? Could writing help veterans cope with and eventually recover from PTSD? Can writing help heal diseases like AIDS and Cancer? Eventually, can writing help the parents, siblings, and friends of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims make sense of and recover from the senseless and tragic event that took the lives of the 26 victims?
As a result of my research, I believe there is hope. Here are some interesting facts about writing to heal:
- Excessive holding back of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, can place people at risk for both major and minor diseases.
- The more people described positive emotions in their writing, the more likely they were to be healthier afterward.
- Writing appears to benefit the immune system.
- Writing helps patients get better, and also keeps them from getting worse.
- Just telling a story over and over in the same way won’t make people better. There has to be growth or change in the way they view their experiences.
- The greatest health benefits of writing occur when we write a story with structure, causal explanation, repetition of themes, a balanced narrative, and awareness of a listener’s perspective.
- Writing gives you the chance to take a memory that might be stuck in the back of the mind, make it physical and shape it so that eventually you understand that it’s a memory and it can’t hurt you anymore.
- Authentic writing and self-discovery is a form of prayer.
If the topic of writing to heal is of interest, you might want to read some books on the subject. Here are a few to get you started:
Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions by James W. Pennebaker PhD
Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma & Emotional Upheaval by James W. Pennebaker
Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise A. DeSalvoWriting to Heal. Change your life through stories (The Pathway to Self) by Jacqui Malpass.