Monday, April 23, 2012

Therapy Writing

I've heard more than one person say that writing has been therapeutical to help  them process difficult experiences.

Most people have experiences where they look back on with a sense of dread, but they've also become somewhat apathetic to it, as in it was what it was and I've moved on. That's how I feel about  some icky stuff I've been through in a different lifetime. It has even occurred to me that some of these challenging experiences can actually make for some good stories. So I've considered writing some of this stuff down, tweaking the details to remove distinguishable features of people, places, and specific incidents, acknowledging the emotional experience as opposed to the actual experience, and then molding my story into something that's reader-friendly, perhaps even a book.

Unfortunately, "therapy writing" hasn't always been successful for me. To put myself in the shoes of the old me means reliving certain experiences and becoming reacquainted with certain toxic personalities and when I do this, the apathy I'd once felt towards the past might be slowly replaced by the angst, rage, and sadness I'd felt back then. So I'd tell myself I'll feel much better when I'm done with all this. After all, you always hear about how good writing comes from the heart, and maybe some short-lived discomfort is all I need to endure to produce a quality piece of writing.  But weeks or even months into a project, I find the self-indulgent pleasure that used to come with my writing is replaced by a feeling of helplessness, as if I'd jumped out of a time machine and found myself back there again. And this helplessness follows me around even when I'm not writing.

And then I realize I have to stop. I jump back into the time machine and very slowly weave my way back to the present. Like I'd waken up from a bad dream, I have to  keep reminding myself that I'm here now- I'm not back there anymore.

But sometimes, I feel miffed at myself for stopping.

Has therapy writing ever worked for you? Do you ever experience back-there-again flashbacks and negative emotions while you write? How do you deal with this?

20 comments:

Kate said...

This is an interesting post, I tend to try to write as therapy but end up over analysing the situation and convincing myself that maybe it wasn't that bad after all. Which in turn frustrates me because it takes a lot to get me riled up and then it's gone.

J.C. Martin said...

Can't say I've ever used writing as therapy (unless writing about someone I dislike dying in a horrible manner counts!). But I can see how it could be beneficial.

J.C. Martin
A to Z Blogger

Cortney Pearson said...

I keep a regular journal, so I don't necessarily *go back* to relive the past as I write it, I write through tough times, and that is definitely therapeutic. It lets me get my feelings out on paper, maybe instead of at the person they're directed at but would be disastrous if they knew how I actually felt. I tried once to write about a painful childhood experience but stopped because I just didn't want to relive it. So I'd say, if you're having a hard time letting go of something that happened, writing about it might help, but if you've sort of let it go, no sense in reawakening it. Just my thoughts though. :)

Gina C said...

when i was younger, i did a lot of free form journal writing. this really helped me sort out what was going on, and helped me process things.

as far as creative writing goes, i tend to leave the emotional stuff alone. tapping into it would probably spark some great, poignant writing, but it feels scary to go there!

Francene Stanley said...

I often use my experiences in my writing. The bad ones have no hold over me. I've moved on long ago. Lived the time and conquered that weakness inside me. Keep writing. Only when you rise above, can you feel free from the trauma. Blog on!

http://francene-wordstitcher.blogspot.com

Daisy Carter said...

I can use my past for my current writing, but only if I tap into the emotion from a semi-closed off place. I can't write about specific events without getting all rage-y/sad like you said. But I can think back on it long enough to remember how I felt at the time and write about that feeling in a completely different situation (no idea if that makes sense). I think writing through stuff is therapeutic, like some have said above. But I'd think trying to relive in my mind old pain wouldn't help as much as take me back to that place.

I'm talking in circles, aren't I? You've asked too high brow a question for me! :)

Shelley Sly said...

Depends on the subject. I've incorporated some things into my novels that I've experienced that were unpleasant (like being bullied in elementary/middle school), but there are other things I've experienced that I wouldn't put into a novel. Some things I don't like to relive, even by giving that experience to a character who isn't me.

Mina Burrows said...

Nothing negative at least not yet. But writing was for me initially was a way for me to release thoughts stuck in my head i.e. stories and experiences. Great post.

Janna said...

I don't think I've gone back and tried to write about an experience that was hard for me. I've definitely used writing to help process emotions. Sometimes it's helped, but many times I just feel more angry or depressed or self-justified (not always a good thing when you are trying to move on).

Lynn Proctor said...

hmmm i may have been doing that more than i knew--if so then yes it helps--great post

inluvwithwords said...

My writing has definitely helped me process some difficult emotions. But in those cases I usually write while the feelings are raw and the emotion is spilling over and the page is the only place I know what to do with it all. Once I have made it through a rough time, I don't go back to dredge it up because it might make for a good story. I don't think that would be healthy for me.

Gina said...

I'm thinking about a very painful thing that hap end to me while I was younger, thinking it might be a way to exorcise the final demons that might lurk in the back of my mind still. Like you, however, I'm afraid that doing so will only awake them and writing will become an excruciating thing more that any healing process. We shall see. I don't know if I'll be brave enough to do it...

From Diary of a Writer in Progress

Gina Gao said...

This is a great piece of writing. Sometimes when I am going through something difficult, I write about it.

www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

Jessica said...

My version of therapy writing is my journal and usually it comes out in poetry. It forms a sort of release for me, but I don't allow myself to sink into it. Otherwise, I couldn't continue with my healing.

Jay Noel said...

Nope, never tried therapy writing. I think it's because I hash the past over and over again. Probably not a good thing to keep looking back.

Nick Wilford said...

What a thought-provoking post. I've not really got anything in my past that I need to get over. But I can see how therapy writing might look like a good idea, but actually writing a piece with all the gritty details and the level of mental involvement required in writing could be rough.

Cynthia said...

Kate- But maybe it's a good thing that you're not writing from a "riled up" state of mind.

J.C.- Once I read an interview of a mystery author (can't remember the name) who says she does just that.

Cortney- I too prefer not to let everyone always know how I feel, and that is how a regular journal would come in handy.

Gina- I kept a regular journal when I was younger too. Maybe that's something I can revisit.

Francene- I'm glad you've moved on from your bad experiences.

Daisy- I hear what you're saying. Ideally, I'd like to write about this stuff from a detached, yet present perspective.

Shelley- I agree that some subjects are easier to approach in writing than others.

Mina- Once those thoughts are released, perhaps a weight is lifted, I hope.

momto8 said...

all the great spiritual directors recommend journaling...

Cynthia said...

Janna- I do like how writing can help us make sense of our emotions- we just have to know what our boundaries are.

Lynn- I'm glad this approach to writing has helped you.

Ruth- I can see the benefits of acknowledging your feelings as you're experiencing something. I sometimes make sense of a situation more so after the fact though.

Gina- I hope your intuition would lead you to a choice that would be most beneficial to you.

Gina Gao- It's good to be able to articulate your thoughts.

Jessica- I like your idea of releasing some of the stuff without sinking into it.

Jay- There are positives to looking forward.

Nick- Yes, sometimes the mental involvement can be draining.

momto8- Journaling does come with a lot of benefits.

Lissa Clouser said...

Some of my poetry I guess you could call "therapy writing". It's a way for me to relive, deal with, and sort through both things pleasant and unpleasant in a way that I can process best...writing. And by the time I'm done, people rarely know exactly what I'm talking about but that's the way I like it. I'd rather convey the emotion and the moment to the reader so that they may fit the poem into their own life rather than make it so obviously me that it no longer pertains to the reader.

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