Why Write About Your Pain?
Your stories have healing potential—for yourself and others. However, don’t make yourself miserable telling them and then block or stop the project.
How To Write
Telling your trauma can be triggering. You’re opening yourself up to being seen—by the public or a critical eye.
Some trauma survivors unconsciously associate “being seen” with danger:
- because something painful happened to them when they were seen,
- or because they were not seen in some fundamental way, especially early in life. You opened yourself as a pre-teen or younger to an adult, and that person(s) gaslighted you, punished you, told you what you were feeling or thinking wasn’t right, wasn’t acceptable, wasn’t true. You learned to keep any emotions and thoughts covered up for fear of pain.
But still you feel compelled, driven, to write about those injuries. In the beginning when writing the hard stuff, we need someone to help take care of those wounds.
The Difference Between Journaling and Storytelling
- Is a safe place where we record all the details of what happened: location, weather, every sensory detail you can remember.
- It’s not meant to be read by everyone, maybe just close friends or counselors.
- Has no writing rules to follow and no bar to meet regarding writing quality.
- Sometimes give you insights regarding how that event can transform you.
- Is a place to experiment. Change the writing point of view, and write the story or write a letter to yourself from that POV:
- “I lived with my Aunt Florence….”
- “You lived with your Aunt Florence ….”
- “She/he/they lived with her Aunt Florence ….”
Storytelling, which includes personal essays and memoirs, are stories about transformation that have gone through revisions and edits.
- They are focused writing, organized systematically, written for a specific audience.
- You’re not just writing about traumatic or shameful events but you reveal lessons learned. That requires critical feedback from writers and editors.
- Perhaps you use the Western narrative of a hero/heroine’s journey: something takes you out of your current life situation—often painful, you go through the experience, and you come back transformed—not necessarily happier, but changed. Doesn’t mean it’s over and done with; there’s always room for more personal growth and transformation. It’s circular not linear.
Sometimes writing about pain can bring on depression in the writer.
- Proactively engage in self-care. Writing your trauma can be a means of self-care, but it’s not the ONLY means. Get up and go for a walk. Make yourself a cup of tea. Abandon the writing for another day.
- Pay attention to how much energy you have. Writing the hard stuff takes energy, and then you need energy to recover from writing it.
- Consider the spoon theory, a metaphor used for chronically ill people. Each spoon represents a finite amount of energy. If you start your day with ten spoonfuls, how many are you willing expend today on your writing?
Evaluate your timing:
- You can journal at any time, but stories about an event often need distance so you can understand what it means.
- Part of you may not want to write about an event—it can re-activate the trauma and make you give up writing about it.
- What else is going on in your life? A major move? A new job or job loss? Surgery? You may think you have lots of time to work on your writing, but major life transitions take a lot of energy.
Be Mindful About What You Write
Explore your stories with curiosity and compassion. Check your motives. Are you writing for revenge? Are you waging a vendetta? Remember that writing without working with the pain can increase the pain.
A final, published memoir is not a substitute for therapy. It’s not a place to dump all your unprocessed anger and hurt. Be mindful of what you say about the people who have damaged you, if for no other reason than because you can be sued for libel or invasion of privacy (2, 3).
Writing groups and workshops are there to help you improve your storytelling skills—NOT to help you deal with trauma. Before you expose yourself in writing groups, practice telling people to mind their own business—with love, kindness, and compassion, of course. You could be opening yourself up to unwanted and inappropriate advice and comments.
No One Can Do It For You, but You Can’t Do It By Yourself
A People House motto—affordable counseling is available through People House. Write your story, and
get help when needed!
Notes & Sources:
About the Author: Award-winning author Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working, and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her spiritual connection at People House and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, where she focused on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels. In addition to working in refugee repatriation, she was an editor for international, English print, daily newspapers in Indonesia and Mexico.