The Power of Emotional Writing
By Gurpreet Narang
It's a proven fact that suppression of negative feelings is one of the root causes of stress. Our inability to handle them effectively causes them to build up over time in our systems. This can create havoc in all areas of our lives. Mind and Body are a unity. In fact, research shows that over the long term, a sick mind affects our immune system making it weak and thus prone to diseases. A healthy mind on the other hand strengthens the body.
Dr. Bernie Siegel author of "365 Prescriptions for Living" and "101 Exercises for the Soul" puts it aptly: "As one lawyer remarked, 'I came to a conclusion that was eminently reasonable, totally logical and completely wrong because while learning to think I almost forgot how to feel.' To know ourselves we must pay attention to our feelings and listen to our body so we can be guided and live an authentic life. Today most of us seek distractions and numbness and then pay the penalty when our body breaks down."
Steve Mensing, a counselor and a writer says in his book "Your Emotional Power" that: "At the heart of anxiety, depression, problematic anger, mind-body illnesses, addictions, severe stress, broken relationships, and failed aspirations is often our inability to feel, accept, express, and decipher our feelings. Next to having food, air, and shelter, feelings are a necessity for survival, health, and well-being. Frequently many of us are inexperienced in the area of feelings and emotions."
How can one effectively manage feelings? One of the solid and proven methods is to practice Emotional Writing, also called Expressive Writing. Emotional writing is a powerful way to undo traumatic experiences and improve our emotional well-being.
Research has shown that emotional writing can even improve our health and immunity. Dr. James W. Pennebaker, professor of Psychology at University of Texas at Austin and an early explorer of emotionally expressive writing, said: "When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health. They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up. People will tell us months afterward that it's been a very beneficial experience for them."
Emotional writing can also be helpful in altering our moods, thereby balancing our emotions. What exactly is emotional writing? It is writing in an uncensored way about what we feel about an event or ourselves. The key thing here is UNCENSORED which means writing whatever comes to the mind. We are expressing what we feel. We are not writing it to publish or show others to read, hence it is not necessary that our writing is outstanding grammatically or our spelling is correct.
How to do emotional writing? You can do this basic exercise that Dr. James Pennebaker assigns to people: Over the next 4 days, write about your deepest emotions and thoughts - about the emotional upheaval that has been influencing your life the most. In your writing, really let go and explore the event and how it has affected you. You might tie this experience to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved or love now, or even your career. Write continuously for 20 minutes. To get more out of this writing you can go to a quite room were you can sit undisturbed for 20 -30 minutes.
If you want to dig deeper I highly recommend you read the book called Your Emotional Power by Steve Mensing. The book contains simple yet very powerful techniques which can have a profound effect on your emotional life.
Two full chapters in this book are devoted to emotional writing and each chapter contains many tips and strategies to get more out of this method. What follows is an excerpt from Steve's book. This is an example of an individual who employed emotional writing and benefited from it...
Claire was in her mid fifties when her mother passed away. For years Clair harbored anger and resentment toward her mother that was rooted to childhood and teenage years. Whenever she thought of her mother, Claire recalled her mother's dismissive attitudes and severe criticalness, almost always finding fault and comparing her to her older and more successful brothers and sisters. Her dismissive attitudes and criticalness hurt. It left Claire feeling less than acceptable and with a self-critical voice that frequently stung her.
In her early 30's Claire became depressed. Her critical inner voice, which often sounded like her mother's, was her near constant companion. "You're not good enough." "Your sister and brother are so much more successful than you - look what they have." "You took forever to finish college." "Your marriage fell apart after 5 years."
Claire heard that voice almost daily and she felt its painful reminders. "Not good enough". "Nothing like your sister and brother." Claire remembers picking up the phone and hearing her mother start a conversation only to berate her. Just thinking about it made her blood boil. Over and over she'd run the memories of her mother and her constant picking. Never good enough. It hurt. Claire decided she needed to do something about the resentment and the critical voice that waited for her almost every evening when she was alone.
A friend told her about "The Emotional Writing Process," a method that works well with intense and enduring emotions and old hurts and resentments. Claire read the instructions through several times. The idea of writing down how she felt and thought in a swift non-censoring manner appealed to her. She would give it her best. Claire decided to start recalling times when she felt her mother's critical sting. She began to write quickly and in a short time details began to pour out of her, as she recalled instances in her early childhood where her mother compared her to her brother and sister.
Tears welled up in Clair's eyes. She clenched the pen in her right hand as she wrote. The writing poured out of her. She recalled the room, the harsh tone of her mother's voice, and her mother's look. Claire was afraid to say anything back. She was 11 and her mother was frightening, especially if she grew angry. Clair's mother could turn on her quickly and say the cruelest things. "Claire you have mousey hair. Why don't you do something with it?" "You only got an A minus in Geography. Alice and Greg never got anything less than A. But then you're nowhere near as smart as they were."
It was well over 20 years ago, but Claire could feel her hurt turn to anger. She wanted to say something to her mother but she was still holding back 20 years later. Claire wrote about half a dozen incidents with her mother. The anger was burning at her. She would give anything to tell her mother off. Claire wrote quickly. She was really in touch with her anger and hurt now. She wrote what she would've told her mother now...
"Mother why don't you act like a mother instead of a hypercritical person? No mother says what you say to me. People don't need to act that way. What the hell's wrong with you? Mothers are supposed to nurturing and loving, but you're anything but. No wonder I back away from conflicts and used to feel horrible about myself. You dumped so much on me."
Claire felt her feelings strongly now. Sometimes they were overwhelming. It felt good to be in touch with how she felt. More incidents with her mother appeared. Times that Claire had long forgotten. Claire heard herself come back at her mother and question assertively why her mother chose to criticize her. Claire felt her anger surfacing with each pen stroke. She was tapping into feelings that were long suppressed.
Her conversation grew with her mother. Claire said things to her mother she never had the courage to say before. Her mother was there in full living color. The emotions were just like real life. They were real emotions and she was writing them out. Claire kept writing through her anger and gradually it began to lose steam. She wrote from both her point of view and from her mother's. For the first time she began to see things from her mother's perspective. She began to understand why her mother behaved the way she did. She was in her mother's skin and looking our through her eyes. Feeling her mother's feelings, Claire's anger drained out of her and with it came a sense of acceptance and forgiveness.
She wrote a while longer. She expressed and felt what she needed to express and feel. She felt good when the session ended. She felt some closure with her mother. The anger was gone. She began to feel some warmth toward her mother - not the hate and resentment that long smoldered there. Finally she put the pen down and sighed. She was glad she faced her mother and her feelings. It was hard, but it felt worth it. She felt a major shift in how she felt. The hate and resentment toward her mother were gone. In its place was acceptance and forgiveness.
Extracted from the book Your Emotional Power reprinted with permission from Steve Mensing - Copyright © Steve Mensing 2007.