Writing About a Traumatic Experience


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Writing has always been therapeutic for me. There’s no question that writing can be very helpful to your well-being, but it can be a great help specifically in processing traumatic experiences. Many times it can help you untangle very confused thoughts that are enmeshed with emotions. It can help you gain perspective. Sometimes it helps you uncover more memories that you didn’t even know you have, and somehow it’s a lot like clearing out a blockage so that you can move forward.

Based on experience, I would recommend a few things before you delve in.

Don’t force it. Sometimes you’re just not quite ready to confront your emotions yet. It’s okay. Don’t traumatize yourself in the process of understanding your trauma. Sometimes after a traumatic experience, it’s all you can do to face the challenges of living day to day. Give yourself a break if you can’t do anything beyond that yet.

Write as little as you want at first. Some people think that writing about your trauma is like opening the floodgates. Many times, you don’t end up holed up in a cabin, feverishly writing the days away. More often than not it starts out with just a few lines a day. Testing out the waters, seeing how you feel about it. This is especially true if you don’t really write too much anyway. Even if you love to write, don’t be disappointed with yourself if all you can manage to write are two sentences.

Learn to stop when you need to stop. When you become emotionally overwhelmed, stop and put down the pen. You can push past some walls today, but part of taking care of yourself is knowing that there are walls to be conquered another time.

Be honest. Don’t worry about your grammar, or your prose. Nobody’s going to edit your journal. Just be honest when you write. The first time I wrote about my trauma, the words felt strange coming out of me and onto the blank paper. But then you should be able to write candidly for yourself, right? You should be honest with yourself through your own writing. What have you got to lose, anyway?

Seek counseling. I wouldn’t recommend writing as the only therapy. It’s just something you can do to help yourself. While the benefits can be tremendous, there are simply some kinds of trauma that will necessitate you talking with a counselor.

Re-engage. Writing is a very lonely exercise. It’s just you and your thoughts. It’s good to re-engage or reconnect with people too, when you feel that it’s right to do so. Isolating yourself for too long while recovering can be harmful.

I found it strange that writing about a trauma has helped me think less about it. I find myself not repeating the memory over and over in my mind anymore. It’s like my brain stopped skipping on a broken track and was finally able to engage the memory in a more helpful, less destructive way. It’s like the end of a hostage taking drama that was only happening inside my head.

Just a quick note, though. Not everybody responds to therapeutic writing the same way. It’s not the silver bullet that will make all pain go away. For many people though, like me, it’s been tremendously helpful.

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