Telling Your Story: The Healing Power Of Journaling And Creativity
Healing through Story
As a survivor of domestic violence, an integral part of my healing has come from not just re-telling my story, but from learning how to tell it in a way that changes my understanding of the events— why I believe they happened and what I learned— to create new meanings and understandings.
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The Mind-Body Connection
There is a mind-body connection to all that we do, and part of being a healthy human being is accepting that connection and learning to work through it and with it, not against it.
If we have experienced trauma in our lives, as many of us have, it’s important to seek out ways to reprogram our bodies’ responses to triggering events.
As anyone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can tell you, some triggers are always unknown, but some are more obvious. Ordinary events can trigger flashbacks, and survivors often try to avoid these situations and events. For veterans, it may mean abstaining from places where neighbors are lighting firecrackers on the Fourth of July to avoid the visceral memories activated by the sounds.
For survivors of domestic violence, the most mundane daily tasks can trigger anxiety attacks, recollections of violence and abuse, and buried memories.
We don’t deny that these triggers and memories exist, though we may try to run from them, convinced that if we ignore them, they are not hurting us. However, this is patently untrue, and studies have shown that holding on to negative past memories keeps the body in a state of perpetual stress and can contribute to the development of both acute and chronic diseases.
One method that has gained popularity in recent years — though stemming from the 5,000-year-old Traditional Chinese Medicine meridian system — is Matrix Reimprinting. This therapy activates and releases stored negative energies and resolves lingering physical and emotional health issues by literally “tapping into” body-stored memories. A good friend of mine, Dr. Taheseen Khan, utilizes this therapy and others in her energy healing practices.
Others benefit greatly from their regular Yoga practice and find release, peace, and healing in their meditation journey. However, we also need methodologies that can be done alone, on our own time, and at our own pace.
One additional outlet for these buried and suppressed emotions is via writing and grief healing through focused journaling, art-making, and other creative pursuits.
Healing with Narrative and Journaling
Through my narrative writing, poetry, and art-making, I’m able to not only record my thoughts and feelings but re-examine them once out of my head, as well.
This allows for an incredible depth of personal self-exploration and understanding that can occur through even an act as simple as writing a few pages of narrative or composing a poem.
Psychology researchers and therapists have found that focused writing and journaling, specifically regarding the fostering of feelings of gratitude, can significantly affect how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. It can also help us re-write our personal narratives to bring greater peace and satisfaction into our lives.
This technique is especially helpful for those who have experienced grief, loss, or trauma of any kind.
The premise is simple. Write about specific topics that re-frame the trauma, loss, or other crisis into something to be thankful for — discussing the lessons learned and the experiences gained.
Whereas focused or directed journaling that facilitates meaning making can be very helpful for healing and processing, unfocused writing can be detrimental at times.
Writers will often replay some of the same sadness that they are experiencing. The key is to have a prompt or direction that is geared towards healing the mind and spirit.
In his collection Techniques of Grief Therapy: Creative Practices for Counseling the Bereaved, Robert A. Neimyer shares examples of such questions to ponder.
Benefit finding, for example, involves seeking the positive significance of the loss, the “silver lining” in the dark cloud of bereavement. This may be discussed in terms of life goals, purpose, values, or changed relationships with others. Questions that help prompt such reflections include:
- How has this experience affected your sense of priorities? Your sense of self?
- What qualities in yourself have you drawn on that have contributed to your resilience?
- What qualities of a supportive kind have you discovered in others?
- What lessons about loving or living has this person or this loss taught you?
- Has this difficult transition deepened your gratitude for anything you have been given?
- Is there anyone to whom you would like to express heartfelt appreciation?
Keep these tips in mind as well:
- Journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. The motivation and intention to become happier plays a role in the effectiveness of gratitude journaling.
- Go into depth and elaborate in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful — it carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
- Get personal by focusing on the people to whom you are grateful; this has more of an impact on the effectiveness of your journaling than focusing on the things for which you are grateful.
- Shift your focus to subtraction, not addition. Another way of stimulating gratitude by journaling is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all the good things.
- Concentrate on the surprises. Try to record events that were surprising or unexpected. These tend to prompt more intense feelings of gratitude.
Journaling once or twice per week is more beneficial than daily journaling. In fact, one study found that people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterward; whereas people who wrote three times per week didn’t.
We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s how the mind works. In order to keep your spirit optimally grateful, aim to journal about one to two times a week.
Healing the mind and body takes conscious effort and hard work, but it does get easier with time.
Make time for yourself to write, create art, or keep a gratitude journal and focus on creating new understandings and positive interpretations of your life experiences.
In doing so, you can transform these negative experiences into pivotal life events that have had a profoundly beneficial impact on your life.
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