Yes, I mean that story! You know, the one in the back of your mind that you keep telling yourself. The one about the traumatic incident (if you’ve been born you have one…).
Write that story it can be really good for you.
Back in the old days, before we carried internet connections in our pockets, some of my early research in psychology was about writing and the emotional effects of writing. I sort of got away from it but like writing itself I keep coming back to this research.
This week I ran into an article titled Stepping Back to Move Forward: Expressive Writing Promotes Self-Distancing by Park, Ayduk and Cross. The article supports a thought that I’ve had for a while, and even takes it further!
As a writer I’ve always felt that writing about things could help me get perspective on things and had a definite emotional effect. Back in the nineties I demonstrated that writing on some topics made people more nervous than others. I was pretty sure writing was helpful for long term thinking about things and for helping you put things behind you. Well, Park et al demonstrate that.
What they found…
Writing is something I do. The written word is something that people find compelling. If you do it right it lets you safely look at things that can feel pretty unsafe in other parts of life. What Park et al found was that expressive writing, writing about emotional things and putting your emotion on paper, helped participants in their study gain emotional distance from the event. It helped the writer to look at things as an observer and not as someone stuck in the moment of the event.
Why is this important? Well, first off looking at things from a larger perspective (which you can do if you can back up and look at things from the perspective of an observer) gives you a broader view of things and makes things more understandable.
Incidentally (from some of my own research) just being a literate person does some of that too…
When you understand things better. You can deal with things better and find solutions.
Park et al also found that the emotional distancing was associated with a decrease in emotional reactivity. Remembering events can put you through an emotional wringer. Decreasing emotional reactivity means you can remember events and figure out how to deal with them without having to deal with as much of the emotional spikes that came with the original event. You gain protection from being retraumatized by the event.
There’s still more to study on this part, but Park et al also found a link to actual physical wellbeing and emotional distancing. It’s not a direct line, but it seems to be there. The trick is that it’s seems to be a bit of a relational chain… you write the story; you gain distance; your emotional reactivity goes down; and then your physical wellbeing improves. It’s not a direct, A causes B effect, but it’s something that can help.
What it all means…
Well it kind of means what I said at the start!
Write that story. Use your words. Use your writing to help yourself understand yourself. Use your words to help you gain a little distance from that event, thought, or situation that keeps nagging at you; and help yourself find a solution.
That’s it for today dear reader. Until next time I’d like to thank Park, Ayduk and Cross for their good research and…
Like I said write that story!
Park, J., Ayduk, O., Kross, E. (2016). Stepping Back to Move Forward: Expressive Writing Promotes Self-Distancing. Emotion, 16, 3, 349-364.