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How writing helps us heal: Writing as a therapy

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou.

In the age of social-media fueled narcissistic fetishism, the very suggestion of writing about one’s problems invariably invites scorn if not disinterest. However, research indicates that there’s more to this than meets the eye.

The Grieving Angel
The crucial role of writing in helping alleviate trauma wasn’t so apparent to me until I read “Eaten by the Japanese (review here; briefly a story about a British Indian soldier captured by Japanese as PoW during World War II). Richard Crasta’s essay makes a very insightful observation about his father’s book which, according to him, was probably an effort to “exorcize his ghosts by consigning them to paper” (what a vibrant phrase!). Likewise, the after-taste of Richard Crasta’s The Killing of an Author (review here; the story of the struggle of an uncompromising, independent writer) lingered in my mind long after I had finished reading the book.

Lest one dismisses this as a variant of masochism or schadenfreude, the key differentiator lies in the after-effect it produces in reader’s mind. While the former stimuli are more likely to recede soon after the perversion-induced high, works written by blood and tears possess the capacity to drill purpose into an ennui-filled existence.

Googling up a bit, I found vast literature on this subject. Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise Desalvo appears to be among the more popular books in this genre (the author blogs here). She delineates an entire step-by-step process on how to use writing for healing, and I found this quick-take. She writes, “Important cultural work is being done by people writing the literature of personal disaster – the work of helping to assuage suffering”.*

Suffering, being an ineradicable part of human existence, inescapably drags all to the cesspool of fear, doubts, emptiness, anger etc. The difference however is the meaning we ascribe to it. The trauma, when accepted as an inevitable part and parcel of one’s purpose and meaning of life ceases to hurt us further and instead becomes the springboard for one’s growth. Indeed, “the difference between a victim and a survivor is the meaning made of trauma.”*

 'Revenge is a dish best served published!' -Lisa Kovanda 
When we write, the burning resentment that choked our memory-veins is melted and downloaded into the piece of paper. We’re freed from the burden of mental cache of past memories, and the released space can be utilized for newer pursuits. Let it be emphasized again: this isn’t an elaborate exercise of self-pity aimed at attention-whoring. This is a recuperative tool that helps the person understand what exactly is troubling him, define it properly in clear terms, and crystallize all his anxieties to the root-cause and most important of all: helping the person move along.

Engaging in writing, in creative work, then, permits us to pass from numbness to feeling, from denial to acceptance, from conflict and chaos to order and resolution, from rage and loss to profound growth, from grief to joy.”*

I would like to offer some quick suggestions based on my limited experience:
  • Find a solitary place and time where none is likely to disturb you.  
  • Keep a separate notebook exclusively for this purpose (no need of high-quality notebook or pen; normal ones work just fine.) Keep the notebook away from the prying attention of your family and friends.
  • Some of you might be more comfortable with their laptop than notebook; in principle, the laptop serves the purpose too, but writing with a pen on a piece of paper gives that extra zing to your flow.
  • Do not bother about grammar, spellings, tone and tenor while in the process of writing. Just reflect your mindstream on the paper as-it-is. Write ferociously if possible, but without hesitation at all costs.
  • Once your raw thoughts have been dumped into the paper, take a break of 1 – 2 days. Then, with a more sober mind deliberate on the thoughts and try to understand the epicenter of trauma, why it still persists, and how you could alleviate them. Re-write now with better flow of events, greater understanding of the multiple points of view and a more objective mind. “The pursuit of truth is not important. The pursuit of that truth is important which helps you in reaching your goal.” (Ayn Rand)
  • Try of thinking of this as your memoir to be published later – replete with the details, objective frame of reference, and stoic acceptance of destiny – as if, with the act of writing, you’ve finally “exorcized your ghosts by consigning them to paper”.

Letting go is hard, but sometimes holding on is harder.
Before closing, I wish to touch upon a brutal upheaval I experienced some time ago; when I was at loss to make sense of a private apocalypse and was seeking help from internet. Then, I stumbled upon an eBook from a person who faced exactly my situation nearly a decade ago. This anonymous author single-handedly brought hope out of chaos to my situation. What a payback! – I thought. Instead of getting bogged down by the enormity of suffering he endured, he channelized his anger by writing about the painful episode, how he overcame it and his subsequent research to enable others like him to better-navigate through the problem he faced. By the act of writing he solemnized the burial of past while simultaneously extracting a comeuppance of sorts. He, effectively, defeated the defeat.

Go on, start writing today and attain a state of personal acceptance!

Note: My hesitation in making such memoirs public stems from many reasons - chiefly that our self-estimate of our sufferings is hugely exaggerated. But, when trauma is caused by failure of public systems, the survivors are duty-bound to break their silence and speak up. In doing so, they are performing a vital social service of shaming the shame that gags the fellow-sufferers from opening up.

PS: *quotes by Louise Desalvo


  1. Nicely weaved and put across! Only thing is, write-up could be streamlined for the layman's understanding as ultimately every writer would want his reader to get each and every point he wishes to make.

  2. Well-Written.. The practice of creative journaling helps in taking care of our emotions in this highly digitized world


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