Published on January 19, 2015 , Psychology Today John F. Evans, Ed.D in Write Yourself Well
What is Writing to Heal?
Poetic Writing - Creative Non fiction
"By shifting your focus from what happened to you and how you feel about it, to what is happening in the actual world outside, moment by moment, you will really live in the present without filtering it through the lens of your less than positive implicit story."
We all tell ourselves stories about our lives. These stories are the truth as we know it. The more beneficial stories in terms of health are the ones that cause us the least amount of internal stress, the ones that exhibit high degrees of emotional equanimity, self-compassion, a sense of well-being, a calm awareness, an appreciation and affirmation of life. While it is beneficial to express a struggle, it is equally important to find a way to resolution or a benefit from the struggle.
Through writing creative non fiction we can learn to arrange details or events, create descriptions of our story in terms of crisis, struggle, suspension, resolution, or transformation. We tell stories to explain our experiences to ourselves. Sometimes we vocalize our stories to others, but most often, if not most of the time, they are hidden from others. This implicit story is often a constant in our stream of consciousness, and it is this story that it is important to monitor. For this is where we can make a life course correction. If we acknowledge that language shapes and creates the world we live in, we can change our language, change our story, change our lives. When our language does not match our desired image of ourselves, we can create language that affirms our strengths and write ourselves into the future in dimensions that are specific, realistic and actionable.
Take a moment to observe your story as if it were someone else. How would you describe the story: interesting, fascinating, boring, calm, even, proud, happy, sad, defensive, pouting, self-deprecating, compassionate? Notice the language and images. If you can step back for a moment from your story, allow yourself to become curious, if you will, about how worn the path in your story has become. Notice the language specifically in terms of negative and positive words. Imagine a slightly different story, not untrue but different. If you allow yourself to tell a different story, a story that has a good portion of positive words, and write your story with compassion for everyone in the story, including yourself, you may find yourself experiencing relief in unexpected ways.
This is hard work for sure.
But it is so important to change the way you tell your story to yourself and to others. “Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.” http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/19/writing-your-way-to-happ...
In telling and retelling our story in fragments, often in graphically, metaphorically negative ways, with bits and pieces of it flowing into our consciousness throughout the day, we are actually creating our world, the world we live in every hour, of every day. You may note, perhaps, that sometimes you live in the world of your head instead of the word of your senses of smelling, seeing, hearing, tasting, touching. The implicit story in your head filters the story of the world as you know it explicitly by listening to that implicit story more acutely than hearing the child speaking in front of you or the birds outside your door. By shifting your focus from what happened to you and how you feel about it, to what is happening in the actual world outside, moment by moment, you will really live in the present without filtering it through the lens of your trauma.
Why is this important? As bits and pieces of our story surface in our thoughts, we try to connect them with a previous fragment and the next one after that. This takes a lot of resources away from supporting our optimal wellness, from the way we could flourish. Synapses that fire together, wire together because for one thing they are on a constantly surging supply of adrenaline or another stimulant our own bodies provide to prepare us for fleeing or fighting. Living in a high state of drama
Using creative non fiction to lead others in writing for health.
When we are leading others in writing for health we stress how language, story, and mindfulness come together to play a part. By helping others be mindful of negative language and tone of in the story they tell, we direct them how they can shift to more balanced language, using a more compassionate perspective, a shared humanity, observing with loving kindness and compassion. It is important to be curious about the language and how word choice and tone may express self-compassion with language that is quite different from language that self-sorrow, self-pity.
Once they notice their language without judging, simply observing the recurrence of a thought or a feeling, they can shift their emotion by shifting the language and the running commentary. Some create a saying that helps them refocus. "Everything will work out in the end. If it hasn't worked out, we are not at the end." The magic is in breaking the cycle of emotional response to the less than positive story they ate telling themselves by shifting their focus to observing and writing about something in nature, something as close to them as their breath. We teach others to notice their story, the language, tone, feelings, to accept its presence, and to deliberately choose to pay attention to something or someone outside of self. It is essential to take a metaphoric and a real deep breath to break the cycle of retelling story through fragments.
This is not to say that we encourage others to ignore the fragments of their story, but simply be aware of them and watch them pass. Thoughts come and go when we are mindful of them as thoughts. But they linger when we receive something, some kind of reward, self-congratulation, for being right about how we were hurt.
We might say, "So that explains why I can't ... " or Now, I know why I don't trust." Write about what it looks like to trust. Write about how you know when you trust.
Perhaps you will write about where you are now in relation to your body, living in a home you love, doing the work that has meaning for you. Write about what values will you be honoring if you love the home where you live, if you love your body? What values would you be stepping on if you don't live in your body? Write about what will that look like to you if you get back in touch with your body? ? What is it like to hold this clearly in mind? Be curious about what happens as you write this out and reflect on that.
When negative memories surface from the old story, be conscious of replacing them with your new story, and let me know what that is like for you to change your story.