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HOW TO USE WRITING TO HELP TRAUMA AND TROUBLES

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When we’re traumatized by something, there are things that we can do to be able to bounce back as best as we can. One of those things is writing. I will get to the specific action I’ll be describing in a minute, but first let me clarify a few things.

When I say “bounce back,” I don’t mean “just pretend that everything’s okay.” There are experiences that are so horrible that we really never completely bounce back from them. But there are things we can do that will make our situation worse, and things we can do that can make them better.

Something that can make a trauma – or even just a troubling conflict or major life change – worse is to keep it a secret.

It can be easy to keep it a secret if it is also something that we feel ashamed of. What I will show you is a good step to help you through that.

It can also be important to distinguish “keeping a secret” with having appropriate boundaries. There is a time and a place to share our experience with others; and it matters who those others are. Telling anybody and everybody about our traumatic or troubling experience can be intrusive and presumptuous.

That said, one of the most harmful things we can do if we’ve experienced trauma is to hold it completely inside, trying to make believe that it didn’t happen, and keeping it a secret.

Now here’s what we can do instead.  First, we should not go into the details of a trauma when it first occurs.

There are interventions, such as Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) that ask a traumatized person to talk about their feelings and experience right away after a trauma. These actually do more harm than good. They can cement the events into a certain progression that can make it harder to find any sense in them, and that can lead to a feeling of greater fragility and vulnerability.

There is a natural process of psychological healing that people have gone through throughout human history, but it takes time. We integrate, we protect ourselves, we cry, we wrestle with feelings and fears. There is a process that includes what have come to be called “symptoms,” but what they really are is our way of dealing with the situation, and this process is completely normal and necessary.

This might take a few months, but for most of us, the symptoms of trauma dissipate over time. Humankind has had an incredibly violent history; we as a species are well versed in dealing with trauma. But we can also do things that lock in or freeze the symptoms, so that they perpetuate over time.

Here’s something that you can do that has been shown to make a difference, courtesy of Dr. James Pennebaker, author of Writing To Heal:

After some time has passed, after you have some distance from the event, write about it, without interruption, for at least 15 minutes a day for three or four consecutive days. It’s best if you do this at the end of the day, if possible.

This will help you to make sense of any confusing or upsetting thoughts, feelings, or experiences. It will help you to express what’s happening – if only to yourself – so that you’re not keeping this a secret. And it can help you to integrate and find meaning in the experience.

Pennebaker has this exercise at his website, and you can look at his description here.

Writing about a trauma or difficult time like this can make it easier to talk about it with others – certain others in whom you can trust and confide, if and when it’s appropriate. Having written about a trauma can make it easier to talk about it in a way that is helpful, rather than just flooding into the intensity of the memories.

The method works not just with recent traumas, but old ones as well, even those that have haunted us since childhood.

This isn’t magic; you won’t be free of all troubles for having done this. It is a tool that can help you to get to a stronger, less worrisome place, so you can get on with your life.

~

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