Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Writing To Heal: The Original Study (Part 1)

As I sit down to write about writing to heal, I feel so lucky that this is an outlet we all have. Yesterday was a traumatic day--with Gianna stopping her blog because of an Internet stalker. Since she will no longer be online, I'm sure we all wish her well with her recovery, and the bipolar blogging community will sorely miss her voice, and her passion.
* * *
While I have always known that writing to heal is an important activity for me, I wasn't aware of how it all began. Many years ago, when I wrote my second book, The Mommy Guide, I interviewed James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D. about the importance of new mothers being able to discuss their concerns with friends. It was illuminating to learn that "opening up" about problems was so important.

And I've written a number of times about the importance of Dr. Pennebaker's research, although I had never read his seminal book, Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval. But, I'm reading it now, and it's even better than I imagined.

The original study that Dr. Pennebaker conducted in the mid-1980s was composed of 50 college students who signed up for an experiment in which they knew they would be writing for 15 minutes a day for four consecutive days. They were given the following instructions:

"In your writing, I want you to really let go and explore your very deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic experience of your life. You might try to tie this traumatic experience to other parts of your life: your childhood, your relationship with your parents, close friends, lovers, or any other people who are important to you. You might link your writing to your future and who you would like to become, to who you were in the past, or to who you are now.

"The important thing is for you to really let go, and to write about your deepest emotions and thoughts. You can write about the same thing all four days or about different things on each day; that is entirely up to you. Many people have never had traumatic experiences, but all of us have faced major conflicts or stressors, and you can write about these as well."

Tomorrow, I will talk about how all this relates to bipolarity, and what I've learned about writing about my own traumas and stressors.

(to be continued)


KJ said...

I am really glad you are posting about this. I really believe in writing as an outlet and a healer. There have been times in my life I had no other place to turn and writing proved and still does to be a safe place for me.

Danielle said...

Well, well, well, what a small world....I didn't know you had written The Mommy Guide! When my business partner and I had a business (for seven years) for new moms and mother's of toddlers your book was on our 'highly recommend' list (grin).

In regards to stalkers....my sisters are continuing to do that also and a niece just emailed me a 'nasty gram' as it relates to not only my parents but being bipolar....and she has it also. Ah well. I refuse to close up shop. As you say....for two years now writing has provided much healing for me, no matter how the 'stalkers' perceive it. I am sad for your friend.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Danielle,
It is a small world! But what is wrong with your family? Yikes. You'd think they'd have something better to do with their time than reading your site--and sending you nasty emails.

Perhaps you could send them a list of hobbies that don't include harassing you! (I'm hoping this makes you smile although the whole thing is so "not-funny.")


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Yes, it truly is, and the effect has far researching wellness results--which I'll discuss in this series.


marja said...

I'm looking forward to this series, Susan. Writing is so very important. The last book I wrote strengthened me so much and is what led me (indirectly) to creating Living Room.

I have a friend who suffered terrible abuse throughout her childhood. She hasn't been able to talk about it because the memories are so painful. This abuse has ruined her life. She just had a breakthrough and is starting to write a book about it. I'm so happy about that.

Writing about our pain is a way of dumping it out and letting it go. Sharing our writing with others is even more therapeutic, I believe. We no longer have to bear the pain all by ourselves. Our readers help us carry it.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
I think it's a really important topic too. It's one of those things where once you realize the positive impact of "expressive writing," you want to tell the world so that others don't have to walk around feeling they must keep their traumas or their stress to themselves!


Danielle said...

You did make me smile...thanks :)...I love the humorous side of you!!!

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

I love your sense of humor as well! But what I truly love about you is that you recommended my book and didn't even know me (a big smile here)!