Writing Your Life Story as Self-Care
People who have spent time writing, regardless if they wrote poetry, short stories, or personal essays, have found that the act of writing benefits the writer as much as it does the reader. Though we tend to view writing as a communication tool from reader to writer, one of its greatest benefits is supporting the writer’s well-being.
Set Aside Time to Write
When we write, we give our thoughts time. Time is such a luxury these days, as the technologies that were supposed to make life easier have shortened our attention spans and kept us perpetually distracted. When we put life on hold to write, we dedicate time to our thoughts and give them the space to flower. Writers have known that the writing process allows for time to think through one’s questions with both depth and breadth.
Novelist Flannery O’Connor suggested, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
Writing is rarely quick and easy. It’s a slow process that gives the writer opportunity to shut off the world’s chaos and focus. When we do this, inevitably we take care of ourselves. Life has become so disordered that people are oftentimes exhausted just getting through the day. Taking time to quiet the world around us can allow for a break to sit with our thoughts, a habit that writers have used for centuries to regroup and reconnect with oneself.
Journaling after Stressful or Traumatic Events
Every person has experienced stress or trauma at some point. We may have experienced the loss of a friend or family member, the loss of wealth or stability or status, or the loss of place when our homes or communities change for the worse. Loss can wreak havoc on people, and the aftereffect can present itself in a variety of ways.
Some people experience heightened feelings of stress, weight change, affected memory, or declining physical health. For others, the effects can be as significant as mental health illnesses like depression or anxiety.
Some writers address their personal challenges by writing about them. Starting a journal where writers chronicle their hardships can help by putting words to the feelings and details to events gone awry. The process of journaling to express the depth of thoughts surrounding personal experiences can be incredibly therapeutic for writers.
There are two styles of writing recommended to support mental and emotional wellness after challenging times: expressive and reflective writing. With the expressive style, writers separate themselves from their writing by collecting their experiences as events separate from themselves. They write about their pain, trauma, and stressful situations without any editing or filters. The events and pain can become separated from the writer with time, as writers capture the details of events while looking at themselves as though they are characters within a story.
How do you start expressive writing? Choose a painful incident and write about what happened without stopping. Write about what happened, how it felt, what it made you think of, and what effects it had. Write it all down. Then tear the paper out of your notepad and throw it away (or burn it or shred it water and put it in the compost bin).
The point behind expressive writing is that you don’t judge yourself, your experiences, or your feelings. You just put it all to paper then destroy it. Evidence suggests that engaging in expressive writing can alleviate chronic physical and mental pain if done on a regular basis. Some people write every day and some multiple times a day. Expressive writing can be cathartic if you’re willing to give it a chance.
Reflective writing is similar in that the writer looks to the past for incidents to write about. But there is more license to analyze the past. With reflect writing, we look back to the past to see what happened, but rather than re-experiencing it, we figure it out, we break it apart, and we evaluate it so that we understand it. When we reflect, we are not the same people from the past. Today, we have new skills, experiences, and knowledge to use to rework our former selves.
When writers reflect on their previous experiences, they are writing for themselves not to share with an audience. The purpose isn’t to communicate an idea to a reader but to process experiences, emotions, and information with the intention of making sense of them to the writer. Anytime we can turn something from emotional to logical, we tend to feel relief.
Rewrite Your Experiences
When writers reach a point where they are emotionally able to face their past experiences with relish, they may want to try rewriting them. In all likelihood, you have a dozen incidents from your life where you replayed the event on repeat in an attempt to figure it all out. Well, when you write about it, you can do just that.
Think back to an incident that did not go in your favor. How could it have gone differently? What series of events could have changed to have made you the victor rather than the victim? What missteps did you take that you would like to redo?
Once you have the original incident and its more favorable outcome in mind, rewrite the story. Make yourself into the hero of the story. Change the things you said. Change the things other people said or did. Take this old incident that turned out poorly in real life and rework it so that it’s a moment of success in your life memories. Writers who rewrite their experiences can sometimes feel like they’ve taken back the control they lost in those incidents and regained a sense of confidence.
Writing serves a dozen different purposes. We can write to share information and stories with a reading audience. And we can write for ourselves. The writing techniques we use can help us lessen the damaging effects that stress and trauma can leave in their wake. By writing about our lives, we can engage in a kind of healing that just might make life a little bit better.
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