Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
You may write a poem, a story, keep a journal or write a novel; (I prefer short stories and common ballad poetry) no matter, writing heals. There is, in fact, no better free therapy than writing. Writing can bring about insight, illuminate foggy issues and bring a smile to the hearts of people experiencing anger, loneliness, anxiety and depression, and help overcome a number of other diagnosable mental and physical disorders.
Human beings tell stories. We do this naturally to help us remember, to entertain ourselves, to teach others, to pass on wisdom, to try out new ideas or new ways of thinking, and we can do it to heal our lives. Everyone has a story and everyone has issues. Right? Many people try to hide their feelings and emotional difficulties only to find that they grow, turn sour and fester. We fear unnecessarily (usually) judged harshly and criticized by others. Writing about it helps to heal that emotional and psychological pain and develops a history for future consideration.
Research by Dr. James Pennebaker, Professor, University of Texas at Austin, has been studying the effects of writing and people’s health and well-being for more 20 years and found that when people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experienced improved health. According to Pennebaker, “Through writing they become active creators of their life stories. They are not simply people something bad or painful has happened to. They left with a new sense of the power of words,” “They actually got access to using language as a healing tool in a way they had never used it before.”
Pennebaker has also found that the ability to change perspectives during the course of writing is a potent indicator of how well the act of writing will benefit an individual. “People who are able to construct a story, to build some kind of narrative over the course of their writing seem to benefit more than those who don’t,” Pennebaker says.
Writing allows you to express your anger, fears, pain and other emotions without fear of being misheard or misunderstood. You can write until your fears are relieved. Once the negative emotions have dissipated, there is room inside for more productive material that can set your free.
I have often used poetry in Psychotherapy and found that the writing helped me, the psychologist, and sharing helped the patients. Here’s one such story.
During a particular period, I was troubled from working with 3 women who were being physically and emotionally abused by their husbands. The stories of their plight was painful for me to hear. From a story I read, I decided to write this poem in common ballad form.
They had an expensive Italian wedding.
Before the month ended, the beatings started.
She was angry, bewildered and helpless.
Their religion would not have then parted.
Her mother said “Be kinder, he’ll stop it.
Her sister’s husband beat her too.
She rang her hands and tried much harder
To do whatever he wanted her to.
Her compliance and attention made no difference.
He drank and beat her every Friday night.
He’d apologize and make up on Saturday.
She saw her life as a terrible plight.
Se realized she’d remain unaided.
She simply would have to take a stand
Or live her lifetime plagued with beatings
From him or some other man.
So that night, just like clockwork
He came home, beat her, and went to bed.
She filled a spaghetti pot with boiling water
And held it over his sleeping head.
She woke him gently, without much movement.
But there was fire in her soul.
Her blood boiled hotter that the boiling water.
He awoke and, watched her rage unfold.
With that, she moved away the water.
Not one drop touched his head.
She spoke, “Go back honey, sorry I woke you.
You must be exhausted and nearly dead”.
That night, while she slept he sat thinking.
From that day on, he was kind
He never again raised a hand to her.
Their life became peaceful, sublime.
Tonight, they’re celebrating their fiftieth.
Their children and grand children will all be there
And a priest to renew the vows
Symbolic of the love they share.
So, I ask you, what’s the secret
To their everlasting truce?
Tell it to every woman
Who’s had to live with abuse.
© Rachell N. Anderson, 1986
While writing the poem, I was able to feel the pain, visualize the actions, and see a solution while keeping my values for non violence in tact. I no longer felt the intense pain and helpless in the face of their stories. I experienced a tremendous amount of power and felt that I could help them find relief for their lives.
I decided to share the poem with each of the women. Each created her own direct way for ending the violence. I realize this is not the solution for everyone, but it may get them to think differently about the problem.
We are defined by the stories we tell ourselves and the ones we don’t tell. We are also healed by the stories we share. If your life isn’t quite as you want it and you feel stuck, you may see a psychologist, or you can use writing is a tool for healing it.
© Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. August 24, 2012