Expressive writing , sometimes called written emotional disclosure, is a fancy term for such a simple act: expressing oneself through writing. Most of us have done it at one point in our lives through keeping a journal or a diary. But of course, with modern age, it is now being done with a keyboard. To some extent, keeping a personal blog can be considered as a form of expressive writing.
Tracing the roots of expressive writing
Expressive writing is a therapy introduced by Pennebaker and Beall in the late 1980s. Their pioneering work (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986) involved asking participants to write about a ‘past trauma’, as a way to convey their deepest feelings and thoughts. In contrast, control groups were told to write about neutral topics like writing about their plans for the day, which of course would prevent them from revealing their emotions. Both groups were requested to do this for 15 minutes each day for four consecutive days.
To learn more about the history of expressive writing you can listen to this podcast. Since its introduction, expressive writing has been increasingly used in a variety of way to improve our wellness, ranging from raising the self-concept of adolescents, to helping people with traumatic injury as well as improving the regulation of emotion-related experiences, physiological responses and behaviours.
Why does expressive writing work?
No one has found out yet the exact reason why expressive writing improves wellness, but there are a two theories that could explain it. First, it is possible that expressive writing does it's magic because it allows us to make sense of what happens in our lives, giving us the opportunity to reflect on how to respond to these event. Second, expressive writing helps us to vent out our emotions, which makes us help feel better about ourselves, thus improving our wellness.
Who can benefit from expressive writing?
Expressive writing is really meant for anyone, whether you’re in your teens or an adult. If you’re someone who is really chatty, you might realise that expressive writing is a good way to have a more balanced view of your thoughts. If you dread talking in public, you might be more at ease with expressive writing. After all, it’s far easier to write on a topic than to say it in front of a huge crowd.
What should I write about?
There are no hard rules about what you should be writing about when you do expressive writing. Although most people are encourage to write personal life events but pick something that is at least mildly emotional. I suggest your write about childhood memories, relationships, work life or things that you enjoy doing. In a nutshell, the topic you choose is lease important than how you write about it. This means that whatever topic you choose to write about, don't just write superfically, pour out the emotions attached to your chosen topic.
Getting started with expressive writing
It may be a bit awkward to do expressive writing, especially if you've never done it in the past. Don't worry, just like any other skills expressive writing requires a bit of practice and then soon it will come more naturally. And once you've finished doing expressive writing, give your self some time to ponder upon what you have writtten. This is also the time to be compassionate with yourself. If you are not comfortable about someone else reading what you write, keep your writing in a safe place or just simply tear it up.
Putting our feelings into words really does make a difference. So don't bottle it up, grab a pen and blurt it out. Try it for at least four consecutive days and see how it improves your wellness.