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Writing is an amazing psychological tool. Many people write on a daily basis to help them keep abreast of some semblance of continuity within their lives. It helps them put together and make sense of things that sometimes seem nonsensical, and it helps them get in touch with feelings from deep within. Writing is a natural way to unleash one's creative flow. Although words were developed for communication, when we write, it often seems we communicate first and foremost with ourselves. As such, writing is a marvelous way to make sense of ourselves and our lives. Writing is also invaluable in some much more specific ways. For getting to sleep, and for working through upsetting or traumatic experiences, writing works wonders. Although writing is a powerfully versatile tool for maintaining mental health in so many ways, the focal point of this article will be these more specific uses of writing for insomnia and for trauma.
Writing for Insomnia
So many people these days use sleep aids for insomnia, but many really wish they didn't have to. Maybe you really don't have to! It's amazing how easy it is to get words out of your mind and onto paper. In a way, it's really just a simple trick of the mind. Our minds work to integrate experience. So, when we're over-focusing on something at night, apparently our mind is afraid we won't be able to integrate what we're thinking into our overall experience. On the other hand, as long as we ensure that we won't forget what we're thinking about, our mind will often trust that we will take care of integrating later. That's the trick. You may not know it, but your mind just wants to make sure you won't forget. So, for insomnia, in most circumstances you need only write out what's on your mind to free your mind for sleep....
The Writing Cure
For dealing with trauma, or painful memories, or for any issue in your life that might be upsetting you, writing can be used more specifically to relieve long held fears and self doubts as well as to make sense of emotionally baffling ordeals. Before moving on, however, there is one serious caveat about dealing with traumatic experience alone and on one's own. When post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops, one's psyche often hangs in a precarious balance. One's emotions are in utter turmoil as a struggle ensues between warding off, and integrating, painful experience. Anything that evokes feelings about, or similar to, an initial trauma, can send one spiraling free-fall through the trauma once again, as though it's occurring right now! If you believe you might have PTSD (please see article, "Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), or anything similar to PTSD, please consult a therapist prior to using the following writing method. This method is designed to help you get straight to the problem, but it does not ensure that you will do so slowly and safely. Only an experienced professional can adequately guide those with PTSD at the proper rate and depth to ensure that the treatment of the trauma is not traumatic in itself.
To deal with traumatic experiences or memories we generally need to face our fears about them, reprocess them, and form new insights and beliefs about ourselves in relation to the trauma. Painful experience, including embarrassment and shameful events, accidents involving danger to ourselves or our loved one's, memories of others treating us in ways that were uncomfortable or insulting, and experiences that resulted in a loss of confidence, as well as any other kind of emotionally wrenching circumstance, results in a conflict between one's need to avoid pain and one's need to integrate experience. We naturally avoid things that hurt us, much like we would avoid sticking our hand into a garbage disposal. On the other hand, we need to integrate all the things that happen to us so that we can maintain an ongoing sense of who we are (for a fuller discussion, see the "Post-traumatic Stress Disorder" article). These two biological imperatives, avoiding pain and integrating experience, come into conflict when painful events make it difficult to move on.
In working with traumatic experiences while writing, much can be learned from a large variety of therapies that encourage integration of memories and emotions by connecting logical thought and verbal knowledge with impressionistic thought, including body sensations and our emotions. After traumatic experiences, a person typically separates the thoughts about the trauma from the emotions, images and body sensations experienced when the trauma occurred. By separating thoughts, emotions, images and body sensations related to a trauma, the effects of the trauma can be delayed, and the pain of the trauma can be denied. Unfortunately, as indicated above, traumatic experiences have a way of pushing to be recognized and integrated because integration is so important in understanding ourselves. The effects of a traumatic experience become far more damaging because they have not been fully integrated and processed, and they push their way back into experience against the will of the victim. By using the techniques in these integration therapies while writing, thoughts, feelings, and images from the past can be integrated, and then given new, healthier, meanings that actually help a person move forward in life.
The entire process presented here should be performed over a three day period. Each day should be given time to sink in. Specific writing duration will vary, but serious consideration will require a minimum of 45 minutes per day, and each day will likely require much more time than that. If any part of the exercise seems to cause significant discomfort, do not complete the exercise. The experience of significant discomfort suggests you are working on something much more important than simply a problem from your past, and that the trauma you are attempting to address is so significant that a therapist should be involved. If you need to ask "what is 'significant' discomfort?,"you are probably experiencing "significant" discomfort.
Copyright 2010 Daniel A. Bochner, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Material provided on this web site is for educational and/or informational purposes only. This web site does not offer either online services or medical advice. No therapeutic relationship is established by use of this site.
322 Stephenson Avenue, Ste B
Savannah, GA 31405