Expressive Writing, James Pennebaker, and what this has to do with YOU

Writing is cathartic. Journal keepers know this. Writers know this. Writing instructors know this. Professionals helping clients to negotiate traumas in their lives know this. And James Pennebaker knows this. I first heard about Expressive Writing in a memoir writing class where our instructor talked about why writing is healing- and she talked about James Pennebaker and the studies he did which supported this observation and explained why, exactly, writing helps.

Memoir writing classes are difficult. The information processed, read, worked, and discussed is often highly personal. It is a fine art to run this subgroup of writing classes effectively- to make sure everyone is heard, to recognize those who are truly vulnerable, to ensure a safe setting for people to bring up those issues they are negotiating in their daily lives- and writing about. Critiquing a writer talking about their experiences of abuse is a fine art- not to mention directing a classFul of people to be equally thoughtful, caring and sensitive. To be heard, to have a witness to one’s suffering, to be understood and validated is a powerful experience for those small injustices that are an inevitable part of everyone’s life. It is life altering for those who have suffered major trauma. And this is part of what writing does. As writers we tell our story. We put aside our inner critic and wrestle with our demons on paper. We struggle to make it real, to include the details important to us, and we turn to witnesses, our readers- a community which can then understand, empathize, says we’ve been there too, or, can  imagine the horror. This falls under the rubric of connection; a thing our brains, our beings are driven towards. It is a need ignored at our peril. Isolation is death, take it from a pro.


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