Ernest Hemingway said that writers should “tell hard and honest things that hurt”. It was as if the Nobel Prize for Literature winner knew that putting our emotions on paper was good for our mental well-being.
Psychologists also note: “When you pour out your emotions on paper, you immediately feel better”. But why does such “writing therapy” work?
There are over 200 studies that show the positive effects of writing on mental health. The psychological effects observed in this process are the same for many people, but scientists do not fully know how or why writing helps improve mental health. One theory suggests that holding back emotions can lead to psychological distress. Writing offers a safe, confidential, and free way to reveal previously “blocked” emotions.
However, other research suggests that increasing self-awareness, rather than simply revealing emotions, may be the key to these positive effects. Self-awareness is the ability to look “deep inside ourselves. By focusing our attention on the thoughts in our heads, we can become more aware of our traits, behaviors, feelings, beliefs, values, and motivations.
The practice of writing can be beneficial in many ways. It can boost our confidence and increase our empathy and sympathy for others. This, in turn, can increase job satisfaction and improve leadership skills. Also, practicing mindfulness can help to improve self-control and make the best decisions according to long-term goals.
Expressive writing is often used in therapeutic situations where people are asked to write about their thoughts and feelings about a stressful life event. This type of writing aims to help people process difficult events emotionally. Research shows that this therapy can increase awareness, ultimately reducing depressive symptoms, anxious thoughts, and perceived stress.
Many psychological books have been written about the fact that we can all be actors in this life, many books about how great it would be to become active creators of our lives – directors, but quite rarely do we encounter, in my opinion, a particularly psychotherapeutic suggestion – learning to be spectators. It is this aspect that Ann Lamott describes:
Moreover, aloof, observing life, she shares her perception of people: almost everyone with whom I come into contact sees me as patients in acute pain. Look closely, and there are so many wounded souls, so many tormented faces. But a writer can be a healer: remember how many times you’ve opened a book, read just one line, and thought, “Yes! That’s my pain!” I want to give people that feeling of recognition, of togetherness” .
The healing power of writing is explored even more interestingly and in detail by Jürgen Wolf, a German teacher of literary craftsmanship. He lists a large number of writers who have become known and interesting to readers through novels whose main purpose of writing, was the authors’ struggle with their personal fears, with their problems. Marquez, Virginia Woolf, Harper Lee, Hemingway, Dostoevsky…
If we wan’t to understand how writing can help with psychological problems in my opinion, it is necessary to quote verbatim the first lines of the chapter “Writing as Therapy” by Jürgen Wolf:
“Some writers draw inspiration from their own fears. Jean Rhys is one of many famous authors for whom literature is a kind of therapy. She used to say: I never wrote by being happy. I never wanted to. But I’ve never been happy long term either… In fact, there’s not much made up in my books. Above all, I wanted to get rid of the sadness that nailed me to the ground. Even as a child, I realized that if I found the right words, it would pass. Edna Farber’s opinion of writers’ personalities – probably her own included – seemed to be rather grim: I think to write well and convincingly, you have to be poisoned by emotion. Dislike, resentment, resentment, attacks, imagination, vehement protest, a sense of injustice-all great fuel.”
William Styron agrees with her:
“At all times good literature has been the result of someone’s neurosis… Writing is a good cure for those who are constantly afraid of some unknown threat and are subject to panic”.
William wrote that the only refuge in which to get over all his emotional problems was to write books. In this way, he dealt with his unhappiness caused by the breakup of a relationship or the death of a loved one. It is in these moments that others most often seek help from a psychologist.
This is exactly how the author of this article coped with a state of acute grief ten years ago. “Write stories” – this was the task of the therapist. And a series of stories appeared… it would seem not at all autobiographical, although the theme of the loss of a loved one, something vital, the theme of overcoming… in general, reflection was off the charts in each story. It was a series of stories: the author finished writing at a point when to remain in a state of worry, empathy with the characters, in a state of tensions had become more difficult than to agree to get out of this state.
The stories have more than ten thousand readers, hundreds of positive responses on a specialized website, and the question “Why don’t you write anymore?” When I think about this question, my answer to myself is “I don’t feel the need.” The pain that made me write that series of stories is gone.
Back to those for whom psychotherapy in writing has become a profession and a life’s work.
Paul Schroeder shares the healing result of writing the screenplay for Taxi Driver:
“Writing the screenplay was a method of self-healing for me. I described a cab driver who was overwhelmed with anger and suicidal thoughts. I needed the power of art: if I didn’t separate myself from this man, he would become me or I would become him. That’s how I came up with Travis Bickle Seriously, though, you don’t have to write memoirs of your adversities to get the healing effect of revealing in books the problems that bothered or still bother you. I judge from my own experience: after all, I am the author of a play called “To Kill My Mother” (oops, I think I said too much!)”.
Writer Cecilia Ahern confessed:
“I write about what I’m afraid of. I think I was driven by the fear of losing people close to me. I began to imagine what would happen if someone close to me died. And I realized that I would want to receive letters from him. I would want him to be with me as long as possible. So it’s all a very personal experience. And very emotional: I cried and laughed while writing this book. And it was my own fear that made me write. You could say that for me writing is therapy. I can’t stop until I come up with a happy ending to the story, and then I can say: that’s it, I survived it, it will not happen”.
She writes a 1-2 novel a year, sometimes two, and in all her books tragic, sometimes gloomy, the beginning leads to a happy ending.
In conclusion of this chapter I want to quote one of the writers: How many times have I heard from my countrymen: “I have had so much in my life… I will tell, and you just write”. They were telling the truth and they are telling it: so many things happened in their lives and so much became clear to them, they want to tell people not to show off, but just to share. Your heart is small, it can’t hold everything. That’s why it tears sometimes with happiness and grief. You want to tell. But how? Not everyone can.