So, I’m embarking on a writing practice. I’m planning to write at least 10 minutes a day, stream of consciousness, censorship and judgment-free, incorporating body awareness at times to improve groundedness.
I went over Seven Benefits of a Writing Practice in my last article, but in the process of learning about writing practice, I’ve actually come up with a more comprehensive list. This list includes the 7 benefits from the last article and 23 additional benefits.
I’m sure many of the following sentiments about writing practice have been expressed before, for example in books like The Artists Way, but I’ll just go ahead and say it again. Before listing all 30 ways, I want to discuss three of them in a little more depth first:
1. Writing Practice Connects Us to Our Innate Healing Wisdom
Having a writing practice can be a really effective way to mentally tune in with and make friends with the part of ourselves that has answers, that wants to make sense of our lives, that wants to piece together all the threads of the tapestry and mend things that were torn apart, even things torn apart many years ago. It’s like a healing force – a force that silently sits behind us, something in our spirit that has the desire or impetus to heal. This healing force comes through when I just allow stream-of-consciousness, judgment-free writing to gush forth, and this force has so much wisdom in it. I am finding that having a writing practice is way, way more therapeutic than I ever realized.
2. Creative Writing May Help to Reconsolidate Memories
When we pull a memory up out of the storage banks of our mind, we will experience it in a slightly new way every time it’s brought up out of the place its been filed away. When we remember and then begin to do a writing practice about the memory, we are turning on many parts of our brains and awareness to interact with the memory, such as new knowledge, new experiences, and other frames of reference that did not exist when the experience happened.
For people with PTSD, as we recover, more and more parts of the higher mind open up and become available. As more and more parts of the higher mind become available again, it makes sense that writing gently about memories we can handle could possibly shift how we perceive and feel about the memories. And the writing process helps us to actively practice engaging the higher parts of the mind as well, to help turn them on again.
When exploring a memory in creative writing practice, we can experience it in a new way more powerfully than if just bringing it to mind. We open to our imagination and creativity and invite them to interact with the arising memory. This process may shift how we typically respond to the memory in the future.
Although traumatic memories have unique protective characteristics that stand in the way of any form of reconsolidation, there is research that indicates that our brains do have the capacity to reconsolidate traumatic memories if we know what to do:
“Back in 2000, [Dr. Daniela ] Schiller tells ISRAEL21c, a study in Nature reported on targeting a phase of memory called reconsolidation. This memory phase is activated every time you remember something. It is the very act of remembering that triggers the phase.
“What Schiller and her team of researchers now report in a new Nature study is that fearful memories can be rewritten. But unlike in the movie [Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind], they are not replaced forever: ‘The movie says you can take an old memory and you can erase it,’ explains Schiller. ‘The difference between the movie and what we are doing is that we don’t erase the content of [painful] memories, we just change the emotional response.’” link to source
There are many therapies that deal with reconsolidation of painful memories in a wide variety of ways. EMDR, for example, uses, among other things, bilateral stimulation. A stimulus, like buzzers or tapping hands, goes back and forth from the right side of the body to the left over and over with an even rhythm. This is found in drumming practice as well. Doing a writing practice while also using bilateral stimulation and rhythm could possibly improve the reconsolidation of memories that happens during the writing practice. I don’t know, I’m just speculating based on the healing tool using used in EMDR. Writing while also using therapeutic tools is probably worth experimenting with, as long as titration is always observed and the core of the memory is not plunged into right away but approached slowly and carefully over time.
3. Writing Practice is Efficient; It Can Happen Anywhere and in Brief Periods of Time
Another benefit of writing practice for healing is its efficiency. As a form of writing, it’s a lot easier than writing research articles. For example, I can spend as little as 10 minutes writing, even while waiting for something like in a waiting room, or right before going to bed, and in that 10 minutes it’s possible for me to allow a whole bunch of my psyche to stream through onto the page. It’s actually a very efficient process; it can be done anywhere and it can be done in really brief amounts of time with great effects. My personal experience is that during these brief moments a flow can be started that can bring forth a lot of healing experiences, insights and solutions, certainly a lot more than I expected.
In addition to the three benefits, I have identified 27 additional potential benefits. I have consolidated all 30 into a list below:
30 Ways a Writing Practice Can Help Trauma Recovery
A writing practice enables me to…
Cultivate My Relationship with My Self
- Tap into my own Innate Healing Wisdom; to tap into my hidden, innate healing capacities.
- Create more connection between myself now and parts of my past that became fragmented. To create more self-connection and less fragmentation.
- Get in touch and build relationships with various aspects of my Self. Strengthen Sense of Self – identity, essence, personality, preferences and opinions. To repair the internal architecture of Self.
- Give hidden parts of myself a voice.Resurrect the invisible, the forgotten, and the silenced.
- Connect with resources from my past such as positive memories, moments in which I felt strong, things and people who were support figures in my life. Give me a more resourced life by helping me to feel my strengths more deeply and fully.
- Cultivate a loving attitude towards my self – both my past and present self, to repair the kinds of negative attitudes I learned to have towards myself.
- Making time to be selfish with my writing – writing for myself – and combats codependency and caretaking behaviors.
- The act of maintaining a writing practice for yourself is a radical and powerful form of self-care.
- Writing Practice can be a safe time and space to allow emotional release and expression, which frees up energy.
- This can begin to break up the stagnation of stuck emotions, to help create more movement and maybe the ability to eventually let go and move on to some degree.
- Teaches me to respect and derepress my feelings, desires, thoughts and allow them to expand and be visible. To bring up repressed emotions and allow them to express themselves. To not trivialize but to receive. To keep speaking my story in many different experimental ways without censorship or any time limit; without any limit on how many times it needs to be told or how many ways it needs to be told. Writing practice allows the things inside me to emerge and to have their own unique way of living and existing in the world. The tender and forgotten and suppressed things in us deserve this; they deserve a voice.
- Writing practice teaches me to be assertive, persistent and courageous with myself-expression, to not stand down, even in a world that wants me to forget what is, in fact, most urgent in me.
- Over time, may lead to more feelings of reconciliation and forgiveness (and may not, which is OK).
- A writing practice can enable me to engage an efficient way to make headway in my healing, accelerating the recovery process.
- To experience Post Traumatic Growth; to make destruction into something creative and positive.
- Engaging in creativity catalyzes recovery
- As I elucidated above, writing practice may assist me to reconsolidate memories which can result in giving me new ways to feel about my past. This includes both non-traumatic and traumatic memories.
- Link together disrupted shattered times – disconnected periods of my life – to make Time feel more coherent and more whole.
- Gain deeper understandings of past events by bringing in new ways of thinking that I did not have at the time. Perhaps gain insights that help me to make sense of what happened.
- If I begin sharing some of my writing, this could help heal from social isolation by communicating with others about my pain and experience.
- Taking the writing practice process into a group setting, for example in a writing practice workshop, could help me find more people to heal with, more possibilities to experience co-regulation. Sharing the writing that comes out of writing practice could enable me to reach other people who need to hear my words. Our words can inspire in others more courage to save themselves – the many selves in themselves – in numerous ways. And vice versa, creating more richness in the healing process.
- Organize thinking about problems and decisions and come up with creative solutions.
- Identify the felt sense of when something feels “right,” a felt sense lost a long time ago but that resurfaces in certain times and places.
- Find out what my truth really is with regards to something. To discard other people’s thoughts and judgments and values and goals and pressures from my psyche. To know that my own experience is more important than what they say or think.
- To more actively resolve unresolved issues so that the energy can be freed up to apply to the present.
- Organize my thoughts better, help repair aspects of my cognition that were damaged.
- Help me to engage myimagination for creating my future.
- Helps to concretize what has been nebulous, giving language to things that are without language. A kind of grounding.
- Helps me create containers for experience. For example, to define the edge where the pain ends outside of which there is no pain, or to define the moment when I was not in danger anymore after which I was safe from that one threat, or to define the moment the abuser stopped or left and the next moment when I was not being harmed anymore.
- Writing practice can save us. Writing practice can save lives.
Heidi Hanson is an artist and writer located in San Francisco, California. She is currently working on an illustrated book chronicling her journey healing from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.