By Adriana Paredes, Spiritual Arts Staff
Can writing about our traumas aid in the healing process?
Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin and author of several books, is a pioneer in the study of using expressive writing as a route to healing. His research has shown that short-term focused writing can have a beneficial effect from those dealing with a terminal illness or victims of violent crime to college students facing first-year transitions. He has been giving people an assignment for more than 20 years: write down your deepest feelings about an emotional upheaval in your life for 15 or 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Many of those who followed his simple instructions have found their immune systems strengthened. Others have seen their grades improved. Sometimes entire lives have changed.
According to Pennebaker, when we translate the experience of an emotional upheaval like divorce or losing a job, into language we can grasp the experience and lessen its shock; writing helps us to focus and organize the experience. They may also find they’re better able to sleep. Their social connections improve because they have a greater ability to focus on someone besides themselves.
Pennebaker cautions however, “I’m not convinced that people should write about a horrible event for more than a couple of weeks. You risk getting into a sort of navel gazing or cycle of self-pity. But standing back every now and then and evaluating where you are in life is really important.”
Patients at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md., have implemented his research incorporating writing into the mix of “healing arts” designed to improve cognition and mental health. “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,” according to army curriculum designer, Ron Capps.
From the metaphysical point of view, Barbara Y. Martin explains, “Working with the purifying energy is a wonderful way to help release traumas and disturbing experiences buried in the subconscious mind. When these energies linger they can darken the aura. One place I see these unresolved energies is in the heart center. This can weigh down the consciousness and this is why it’s so important to release these energies as soon as you can.”
Dimitri Moraitis adds, “When working to cleanse disturbing memories it’s important to focus on the releasing and not the reliving of old experiences. These events of the past are gone, but the energetic effects can linger. The goal is to let the memory surface enough to let it go.”
It is important to consult a trained professional when dealing with deep emotional traumas, but writing can be an effective tool to help comes to terms with and releasing disturbing experiences of the past.