Written Word is Powerful Enough to Heal Trauma

After experiencing a traumatic event or series of events, the natural human response is to shut down and hide. Trauma lives within the mind and body. We find ourselves pushing the memories into the shadowy corners of our minds, trying to move on without really processing what happened. Unprocessed trauma then somersaults through the mind, gathering steam and losing all sense of control. These trauma loops are often fragmented, biased, and false memories of the true events, and can be extremely harmful.

By utilizing writing as a tool for processing trauma, we give power to the victim we see ourselves as in our memories. We become a narrator with a voice for our pain. We can transform that victim into a survivor by releasing the skewed perception of our trauma loop. To do this, we have to accept that while we are powerless to change the past, we own the power to change our minds.

In a 2019 clinical study, a 6-week writing intervention that included expressive, transactional, poetic, affirmative, legacy, and mindful writing prompts increased resilience and decreased depressive symptoms in adults who reported a history of trauma and depression in the last year. Expressive writing can take many forms. The important part is that you’re writing deliberately to analyze the events. What you write is more important than how you structure it. Don’t worry about grammar, don’t even worry about having to show someone. The only person you owe this to is yourself.

We are more likely to remember something we’ve written by hand than typed on a keyboard. The complex sensory experience of writing by hand affects more parts of our brain, encouraging it to keep ahold of the memory. When writing about trauma, write with a pen and paper.

The key here is to write your truth, not the half-truths your memory keeps on repeat. So how do we do that?

Writing Exercises for Trauma

Please note: It can be very painful, and even triggering, to do some of these exercises without the guidance of a therapist. Please check in with yourself before attempting something if it feels like you may be putting yourself in danger.

  • Evaluate your life up to the traumatic event. Think about your childhood experiences, adolescence, and even the outside elements that affected your worldview. Now consider how it makes perfect sense that you reacted the way you did. Knowing all you know about yourself, your reaction to the trauma is perfectly sensible. This technique will give you compassion for yourself that you may not have realized you had.
  • Write about the little fractions of memories you associate with the traumatic event. What color was the wallpaper? What smell was in the air? Now fact check. When I did this, I realized the color of the wall in the bedroom I remembered was all wrong. I had shunned that color for years without realizing it wasn’t even the right color!
  • Write about the event from the third person POV. You can see how reasonable your reaction to this memory is by seeing it through another’s eyes.
  • Write fictional characters going through similar traumas. I use my fictional writing to understand myself and those around me during traumatic events. Just remember — no one has to see this. It is for you.

These techniques get you in the mindset of acceptance. Acceptance helps tame the tornado of trauma anxieties so you can gain footing with awareness.

Do you struggle with anxiety and dysfunctional mental states?

Most mental health advocates encourage the use of a journal because of the immense benefits of reflection. Journaling with the specific purpose of reflecting on traumatic events builds resilience toward the inner trauma loop by giving your truth a written voice over time. If you need a little help staring at a blank page, you can always start with a guided journal.

When my therapist and I talked about a traumatic event that happened in my teenage bedroom, she encouraged me to draw a picture of the bedroom as I remembered it. Then she had me revisit the bedroom on my next trip to my hometown. I realized that I’d locked my teenage self in a memory box that looked similar to my old room but definitely was not the same. That memory was clouding all of the good things that happened in my old room. It kept me from seeing the truth. When I saw the truth, I wrote a letter to my younger self and released her from that locked door. It was an enormously emotional part of my therapy.

Journal Exercises for Processing Trauma

Here are some journal ideas for processing trauma:

  • Write a letter to your past self who just went through the event. Express gratitude for their bravery and give words of advice you wish you’d heard. Empathize with their fresh pain.
  • If your traumatic event is the loss of a loved one, write a letter about how much you miss them. (Skip this one if your trauma is abuse. We don’t want to empathize and make excuses for our abusers.)
  • Write a letter to your therapist, or your future therapist, about the event. Detail why you feel it is important enough to talk to someone about. You could also do this one to a close friend if you’re not into therapy.
  • Keep a journal and jot down each time you have an instance of a recurring thought. Write your affirmation for that thought to remind yourself that it is only that — a thought.

Writing Affirmations

Affirmations are a great way to redirect your thoughts. Writing down an affirmation every morning helps solidify a positive anchor to hold you down through the day. Some of my favorite trauma-resilient affirmations are:

  • I am not the sum of my negative thoughts and memories. I am more than that.
  • As I observe my thoughts, I know I do not have to believe each of them.
  • The past doesn’t limit my future. I can do so much. I am limitless.
  • I will not get scared by a feeling.
  • My strength is greater than my struggle.
  • I will not get caught up in what could’ve been or should’ve been. I will look instead at the power and possibility of what is, right now.

Consistent use of affirmations in the form of the spoken and written word is a great tool for combating repetitive trauma thoughts. Start each morning strong by writing a few of your own affirmations that are specific to your experience. You can also try writing the same affirmation for a full week, then changing to a new one.

Writing has always been a passion of mine. Even when I lost sight of it for some years after school, I regained that passion as soon as I picked it back up. My therapist encouraged me to write my traumas and mental health struggles into my complex fictional characters. As I started writing my book, all of the focus was on those around the one character with the most unprocessed trauma. When I finally wrote from her point of view, it was a huge relief. I would lay out all of my traumas through her experiences of similar situations and come away with an adrenaline rush.

This revolutionary software sends thousands of positive affirmations subliminally to aid your healing journey

We all process things differently. Remember the self-compassion trick? It can also be applied to people in our lives to expand our ability to show radical love.

There are so many health benefits to writing about our experiences. Reflection is one of the best ways to understand and grow. Embrace your power and stand up for yourself in your darkest times, because you deserve it.

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