For people with either physical and psychological problems, expressive writing has been shown to have a positive impact. It’s no wonder that people have used expressive writing for centuries as a means of personal discovery, catharsis, and meaning-making. If you’ve never tried expressive writing, this is another skill to add to your coping skills toolbox.
What Is Expressive Writing?
Expressive writing is hard to define, because it is essentially anything you want it to be. Expressive writing is the act of writing about your personal experiences in order to understand and communicate your own perceptions, interpretations and responses.
Expressive writing can take many forms. For example, some people keep a paper journal. Others use a blog (short for “weblog”); this is a personal website that can function as an online journal. Sometimes the writing takes the form of prose, for others poetry. Choose whatever you feel most comfortable with. By the way, there is evidence that expressive writing is helpful whether or not you share that writing with someone else, so if you want to keep it private that is perfectly fine.
Why Is Expressive Writing Helpful?
We don’t really know why expressive writing is helpful, but there are a few theories that may explain why it works. First, expressive writing may work because it helps people make sense of the events of their lives -- it may be a way to process and think through the meaning of events and how you want to respond.
Expressive writing also may help you express pent up emotions about things that have happened. This release of emotions may help you feel better about the situation.
Finally, expressive writing that is shared with others may give you a sense of social support. It feels good to share your writing and get positive feedback or have others let you know that they have been through similar circumstances.
Expressive Writing: What Should I Write About?
There are no hard and fast rules about what you should be writing about in your expressive writing practice. Usually people choose to write about events that are of personal importance. Usually these are events that are at least mildly emotional or are personally relevant for any number of reasons.
For example, you might write about a stressful event that is happening in your life now, or an important event in your childhood. Perhaps you want to write about how you perceive aspects of your relationships, your work life, or your spiritual life.
The topic of the writing isn’t as important as how you write about it. Expressive writing is probably most helpful when you write about a topic in depth. This means that rather than writing about the superficial or surface qualities of an event, you really delve into the psychological and emotional aspects of the event.
For example, ask yourself:
- How were you feeling at different points in the event?
- What were you thinking?
- What physical sensations did you have?
- How did this event impact how you see yourself, other people, the world, or your future? What does this event now mean about you?
Getting Started With Expressive Writing
If you’ve never tried expressive writing before, it may feel a little strange or awkward at first. It is definitely a skill that requires a bit of practice before it comes easily. Before you start, it may help to check out some examples of expressive writing. A good place to find models is the expressive writing section of the BPD forum:
Frattaroli J. “Experimental Disclosure and Its Moderators: A Meta-Analysis”. Psychological Bulletin. 132(6):823-865, 2006.