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Writing Memories, Mending Hearts

Did you know that writing your memories can have a positive effect on your health?  Studies conducted by James W. Pennebaker and Sandra Beall at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas found a direct correlation between writing and healing. In their studies, subject students were directed to write in a journal for twenty minutes a day over four-day periods. The results confirmed that students who wrote about traumatic experiences in their lives experienced an overall improvement in their health.

The studies were comprised of three groups of students who were instructed to do free-writing about traumatic events in their lives in three different ways. The first group wrote only about the emotions connected to the event. The second wrote only about the event and the third group wrote about the event and their emotions at the same time. Students in the first two groups reported improved feelings of well being while members of the third group did not report improvement. However, after four months, these students also acknowledged an increase in their well being.

Pennebaker’s findings led him to conclude that as we write about traumatic events including not only our recollection of what happened, but our emotions as well, we are able to gain a sense of meaning and control over it. In this way, we benefit both physically and psychologically. As we spontaneously write without censoring or correction, letting our minds drift, we discover buried feelings and emotions that we may never have been aware of. In doing so, we gain a sense of perspective and subsequently, healing. What we have written helps us to understand our experiences and removes the experience from our conscious thought. Expression and resolution of these emotions counteracts their negative effect on our overall health and well-being.

Another benefit in writing about these events, is that as we record our memories, we are not only the writer, but also our own sympathetic audience. It gives us permission to release our feelings without going outside of ourselves. Reflecting upon painful life experiences allows us to gain perspective and derive meaning from them. It helps us to be honest with ourselves and reconciles our past with our present.

Here are some helpful guidelines to follow when writing your own healing memoirs:

  • Set aside a specified amount of time to write every day.
  • Balance the use of positive and negative words.
  • As you write, do not censor your words
  • Include your emotions as well as the events.
  • Reflect on the significance of the experience.
  • Write the whole story as you remember it from beginning to end.

Are you interested in reading more about writing and healing? Louise DeSalvo’s book entitled Writing as a Way of Healing is a wonderful guide to the art of memoir writing and healing.





"Your work is
to discover your work
and then
with all your heart
to give yourself to it."
- Buddha


Diane T. Ledet
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