Expressing gratitude, blessing, and joy promotes post traumatic growth* and puts an emphasis on moving beyond trauma to thriving. In this practice, rather than looking back on what happened, those afflicted with PTSD or TBI are encouraged to look at the present and future following a prescribed sequence of writing experiences in the form of letters or notes that express gratitude, blessing, and joy. Engaging in this experience has the potential to change the brain to process information more mindfully, fostering awareness, attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and affirmation.
When Darkness Falls
If you have recently been touched by a life-changing event, diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, job loss, divorce, separation, death of spouse, death of a parent, you know the mind/body connection first hand. The mind/body connection is never more apparent than when we experience a significant emotional event in the form of such traumas. We don't sleep well, we stop eating or we sleep all the time or we eat everything in sight. Such is common knowledge anecdotally and it is demonstrated widely in studies.
Letting the Light In
Thankfully, rather than looking only at effects of stress, some research looks for healing, for remedies, for moving beyond the effects of stress to growth. One of the fruits of such research about healing from the negative effects of stress is the role that written expression can play in alleviating symptoms such as high blood pressure, stressed- induced asthma, rheumatoid arthritis. Expressive Writing heals through a process focusing on feelings related to a trauma, imagining a fresh perspective about that trauma, and creating a meaningful narrative about the trauma. Other ways of writing can promote healing as well. While expressive writing focuses on trauma, Transactional Writing focuses on expressing appreciation, affection, and affirmation.
Other Sources of Light
Transactional Writing often takes the form of letters and notes, sent or unsent. Try writing one or all of these letters and see how you feel.
Gratitude Letter (write for twenty minutes)
Write a letter to someone in your life that you would like to thank for something they gave you, or something they taught you, or something they have inspired in you. Get right to the point and don’t apologize for not writing before now. Imagine how the recipient may feel when they read your letter. Describe your relationship with the person you are thanking and the context for this occasion. Describe the gift that you received, the skill you learned, or the inspiration you received from knowing them.
* Tell them what their gift meant to you when you received it.
* Tell them how you felt about it then and how you feel about it now.
* Tell them how you have been able to use this gift or the skill or the inspiration you received from them.
* Tell them how your life has been enriched by what you received from them and for their presence in your life.
Blessing Letter (write for twenty minutes)
Write a blessing for someone that promotes their happiness, well-being, and prosperity. Get right to the point and don’t apologize for not writing before now. Imagine how the recipient may feel when they read your letter. Name or describe your relationship with the person you are blessing and the context for this occasion.
In your writing, affirm their gifts and talents. Write at least six words that name their best attributes. Consider the milestones they will encounter in their life and offer your wisdomand support. Give permission for them to love themselves, love others, and to enjoy life when you are no longer with them. Let the receiver know how they have blessed you and what they mean to you.
Joy Letter (write for twenty minutes)
Write an expression of joy about a person. Write for twenty minutes. Describe your relationship with the person you are celebrating and the context for this occasion. In your writing describe a joyous, wonderful, exquisite experience with this person. Recall how you felt, what you thought, what you said, what others said to you, who was with you, and where you were. How you feel about them now? How you wish to feel about them in the future.
Do not worry about sending the letters you write. In fact, it might be smart to not send the letters you write. They are ultimately for your mental health and not the intended recipient’s. If, after finishing your writing and taking a few days off, go back and look at your letters and reconsider if sending the letters would ultimately be beneficial for others and for you.
* Post-traumatic growth courtesy of Irene Hayden