How to Write Your Own Narrative: Taking Control of What Life Throws at You
By Janie Siggelko
Trauma is a part of life; it changes us (and most things around us), whether we like it or not. Dr. James W. Pennebaker explains, “emotional upheaval touches every part of our lives. You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are – our financial situation, our relationship with others, our views of ourselves, our issues of life and death.” So, how do we take control? How do we work through trauma and transcend it? How do we preserve who we are?
The Power of the Imagination
It all starts with the imagination. The imagination is the source of human feeling, producing emotion that is a conscious replication of the external world. Nigel Thomas writes of the imagination as being the entity that makes “sensory experience meaningful, enabling [people] to interpret and make sense of it.” Moreover, the imagination “makes perception more than the mere physical stimulation of sense organs…[producing] mental imagery…which is what makes it possible for [people] to think outside the confines of…perceptual reality (Thomas). By using the imagination, we are able to “project [ourselves] in other situations and observe, reflect, and feel the world from another perspective.”
Writing to Heal
Story-telling, in form of narration, is the filter through which imagination can transcend reality and reveal revelation. I use the word story-telling loosely in this sense, as it may encompass narrative in various forms – journals, fiction, film, song, etc. Today, researchers seek to expose the interconnectedness of writing and healing.
John F. Evans, Ed.D, asserts that some healthcare literature suggests that “writing is useful for obtaining and sustaining emotional, physical, and spiritual health.” Further, Dr. Pennebaker’s website claims that those who have followed his guide for writing to heal “have found their immune systems strengthened. Others have seen their grades improved. Sometimes entire lives changed.”
Expression through Journaling
Journaling, an exercise of expressive, personal writing is just one of many narrative avenues. It has been shown to alter emotional, physical, and spiritual health by:
- Creating clarity
According to Maud Purcell, writing utilizes the left side of your brain – the analytical and rational side. This leaves the right side of your brain “free to create, intuit and feel.” While we often use the phrase “writer’s block” to suggest we are at a loss for words, research actually dissolves this notion. Writing “removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to understand yourself, others and the world around you.”
- Identifying patterns
We hinder ourselves simply by revisiting emotionally-draining situations. The best example: the toxic relationship. Everyone has had one, whether it is romantic, familial, or friendly. We force a relationship and ignore the patterns. We believe in change that does not exist. By journaling routinely, you enable and even force yourself to identify patterns of toxic behavior. You then give yourself the choice to use these patterns to let go of these toxic relationships and emerge a better you.
- Reducing stress and anxiety
Do you ever vent to your girlfriends or spouse? Have you ever allowed someone to vent to you? If so, then you probably know how draining this can be to someone else. While withholding all of your feelings is not healthy, exhausting all of your energy on someone else by way of venting is just as unhealthy. Take your frustration, your sadness, and your anger to paper. Allow written word to absorb the energy and intensity of your feelings. When you can learn to do this, you will realize a consistent and open source by which to relinquish all stress. And you’ll save countless good relationships by not being “that girl” that always needs to vent. Vent in your own way – to yourself.
- Enhancing your mood
Evans highlights a study in cancer patients who regularly wrote about their feelings for half an hour for five consecutive days. When these patients wrote on the topic of “your best possible self,” they experienced “a significant boost in mood along with a drop in illness when compared to those who wrote about neutral topics.” What can you take from this? Targeting your writing to a positive image or thought will help to boost your mood. We do not all face cancer, but we do all face hurt, jealousy, and change. Focusing these thoughts into positive images on paper will allow you to transform your mood and increase your confidence so that you may move beyond the emotional upheaval.
- Opening your mind
Disagreements can cause emotional unrest. Rather than hanging on to the problem, identify solutions. Writing about the disagreement can reveal various points of view. Seeing someone else’s position on paper may make it clearer, cutting out the hostility or emotion previously attached to the idea. It is easy to ignore someone’s position if you associate it with feelings of resentment. By addressing disagreements in a journal, you will find yourself able to resolve them more quickly, more positively, and more confidently.
Beginning the Process
Writing is like anything else. It is not a “one size fits all” exercise, nor is it something everyone has a natural affinity for. Remember: grammar and technicality do not matter when you are writing to heal. It is not a paper; there is no grade; and if you are private, no one has to see it. You simply have to commit to writing regularly.
For new writers, I propose the following:
- Write quickly
- Write with purpose
- Write privately
- Write without rules
Allow yourself the opportunity to engage your imagination. Its ability to lead to blessing just may surprise you.
Janie Siggelko lives in Lexington, KY. She is the current lead web editor at Hope for Women Magazine.