How to heal through life writing

Learning to write about trauma helps you to process the painful experience, and gives you the life skills to overcome it

What is keeping me afloat, though, is writing. During my nearly five-year-long abusive marriage and for nine years after, when I left my partner but continued to face different forms of harassment from him, I used my writing to help me heal. Expressive writing is often prescribed as therapy to improve mental health. And I did a lot of it initially, immediately after I left my partner: I wrote about the different forms of abuse I faced, and I also wrote about my fears, uncertainties and trauma as well as the day-to-day challenges of being a single mother. This writing was unstructured, ungrammatical even, because it was aimed merely at releasing pent-up feelings. I suggest you try it too when you’re overwhelmed by emotions and feel paralysed by them. It is cathartic.

What helped me more than expressive writing, however, is life writing. In 1919, Virginia Woolf complained in her diary: ‘Life piles up so fast that I have no time to write out the equally fast rising mound of reflections.’ Life writing is about giving pause to the self to deal with this ‘mound of reflections’ and review one’s life from a critical distance. Simply put, it is nonfiction writing on a person’s life and experiences reconstructed from memory and linked to a larger theme of universal concern.

By Uddipana Goswami, Johns Hopkins University

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