It has been well documented and researched that expressive writing- emotional writing- can promote emotional relief with releasing deep-seated feelings from past trauma. As a therapeutic technique, where the therapist/practitioner is seeing the client as in counselling, tailored writing techniques can be given, gently monitoring the progress of the client.
Expressive writing by its design is meant to ‘get it all out’. Once emotions are out, there is of course the reality that pain will be felt. The individual can come face to face with the past, they can become emotional and cry. This is a normal, even necessary, symptom of release. It is like watching a sad film, it can make you feel sad for a couple of hours, but after the initial release more clarity can happen, where we can see the overall message of the story line, and in the same way expressive writing can help us see the ‘bigger picture’ in our lives.
Trauma, especially suffered as a child can leave a lasting effect on our mental health and even our physical wellbeing. Trauma can include anything from abuse through poverty, neglect, mental illness of care givers to losing a parent through divorce or dying. As children we learn ways to cope with the situations, which as we grow with more understanding, if the same techniques are used they can become maladaptive.
Some examples: being extra quiet; helpful; disruptive,; clingy; reversing roles with parent being the care giver, especially with parents who are substance abusing or who are ill or depressed. There are many different roles children and young people take. This of course affects how they mange their adult lives, as these patterns continue.
Trauma can give you high tolerance for emotional pain, or it can make you oversensitive even swinging from one to the other. Emotions need release and if we are not aware of what their messages are then we can react inappropriately in some high stressed situations or even if we are triggered by an unconscious memory. Our old story is played out and we attract similar situations to continue it.
Other ways of expressing our ‘story’ is with fairy tale. There is always a structure to who is who in fairy tale. There is a princess or a warrior who is going through a struggle, or a journey. There is the wicked step mother, witch or bad wolf, who is desperate to keep or attain something in an underhanded way. There is the challenge, whether it is going through the enchanted forest, or losing the glass slipper etc. and then there is the saviour; the prince or finding the magic stone/ ring etc that will make this all better.
Just as in a film there is an overall message. This is where using fairy tale in releasing the past comes into its own. By using the characters as archetypes or symbols we can navigate gently through the safety of symbolism and see how we, the princess is struggling or the warrior is being challenged. By distancing our pain through imagination we can understand who is the ‘bad wolf’ in our lives or how we are being the underhanded one. Our story comes out in ways where as we write we release and that is healing. ‘Feel good’ hormones flood our body, as it is fun to immerse yourself in fantasy and our stress levels lower.
Fairy tales always end on a ‘happy ever after’ note. To make is more self-affirming and reflective, we instead can write a new statement to live our life by. So instead of writing,
‘And they all lived happily ever after. The end’
We can write,
‘I now make decisions about how I want to live my life, taking small steps every day.’
‘I am leaving the old story behind becoming my own fairy tale…’